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After all my complaining about Chef’s Table, I did enjoy today’s episode, featuring self-taught Slovenian chef Ana Roš. It was refreshingly different!

For one, Ana Roš is from the small and little-known country of Slovenia, which also happens to be beautiful. The picture above is of a lake in Slovenia, and the section below has two more pictures of Slovenian landscapes. The Soča River, near Ana’s restaurant, is especially striking. Here’s a discussion on an earth science forum that you can read if you’re interested in knowing why the water stays so blue-green. Slovenia is a small country endowed with a lion’s share of natural beauty.

STUNTED GASTRONOMY

Slovenia was once a Soviet state. If you’re interested in reading more about the value (lack of value, that is) of good food in Soviet Russia, check out my guide to the Vladimir Mukhin episode. At any rate, the culinary traditions of Slovenia began to develop once more following Slovenian independence.

Since Slovenia is somewhat isolated by its rough terrain, much of Slovenian cuisine relies on local ingredients. But pollution had led to a reduction in fish populations in the Soča River and elsewhere. Locals had to launch an effort to save the Soča (marble) trout from extinction. Luckily, the effort succeeded.

Still, Slovenia wasn’t on the gastronomic map until Ana Roš appeared at the head of Hiša Franko alongside her star sommelier Valter — who also happens to be her husband. But how did Ana start cooking?

She fell into it, it turns out. 

Ana had intended to become a diplomat.

She had an international relations degree and had even landed a job in Brussels. But then she got the news that Valter’s father had retired, leaving his restaurant Hiša Franko to Valter. Valter was a sommelier, not a chef. He needed help. Ana made the life-changing decision to turn down the diplomatic job and take to the kitchen.

It was a brave decision. Not only had she never cooked, but in becoming a chef she alienated herself from her family. She’d been especially close to her father. Now, he refused to speak with her. And, without any formal culinary training, she struggled at first. Hiša Franko lost guests. She and Valter had two children in quick succession and found themselves on the edge of poverty. She remarks in the episode that they were struggling to survive, like the trout in the Soča River.

Soča River
landscape in Slovenia

Above: Several examples of dishes created by Ana Roš at her restaurant Hiša Franko.

Breakthrough: In 2009, an Italian magazine feature put Hiša Franko on the map.

People began coming to Slovenia from abroad to eat Ana’s food. She reconciled with her parents.

Early on in this episode, one of the commentators remarks that Ana “will never gain a Michelin star,” since there is no Michelin Guide in Slovenia. In 2020, the Michelin Guide presented Hiša Franko with two stars, Slovenia’s first ever ranking. I’m glad that this particular fact has turned out wrong. 

Ana remains as humble and hardworking as ever. Her down-to-earth personality was refreshing. And visually, this episode stuns. It’s filled with lovely green shots of the Slovenian countryside, and that emerald river.

I also believe that Ana Roš was one of the first or perhaps the first self-taught chef I’ve seen featured on Chef’s Table. A welcome change!

If you want to learn more about Ana and her cooking, check out her page on the James Beard Foundation website.

 

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