Climb ev­ery Moun­tain

From her KITCHEN in a small SLOVE­NIAN town, the WORLD’S BEST fe­male chef has been MAK­ING waves – without a SIN­GLE hour of culinary TRAIN­ING.

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In Slove­nian chef Ana Roš’s restau­rant – Hiša Franko, the Ital­ian bor­der just a few kilo­me­tres away on one side, and the Ju­lian Alps on the other – plates are like photo frames con­tain­ing mo­ments of her his­tory. There’s the proud use of lo­cally pro­duced moun­tain cheeses, a glimpse of Ana’s child­hood spent div­ing into cheese­mak­ers’ bar­rels with her sis­ter. And then there’s the na­tive mar­ble WURXW IURP QHDUE\ 6RĀD 5LYHU WKDW QRGV to her fam­ily’s an­nual sea­side hol­i­days to the Croa­t­ian penin­sula of Is­tria. It was these early ad­ven­tures to far-flung ta­bles that im­printed on her mem­ory.

“That was prob­a­bly my first think­ing about food, re­ally,” she says, pin­point­ing a trip her well-trav­elled fam­ily took to Ethiopia while she was still in her teens. “My friend, Ado, had a birth­day. And she in­vited us out and we went to an Ethiopian restau­rant in Dar es Salaam in the slums. Re­ally in the slums. [The] spices. The eat­ing with the hands… I think when you say a chef has food me­mories that change your life, that was ab­so­lutely the first one.”

As a child, Ana was a high achiever: she ex­celled in sports (a cham­pion skier who rep­re­sented her na­tional team, no less), thrived aca­dem­i­cally, and is flu­ent in seven lan­guages (Slove­nian, English, Ital­ian, Span­ish, French, Por­tuguese and Croa­t­ian). And she spent her teens dream­ing of a ca­reer in diplo­macy.

Her first culinary role was a di­plo­matic post­ing of sorts: the restau­rant and guest­house Hiša Franko – where Ernest Hem­ing­way is rumoured to have spent his days pen­ning A Farewell to Arms while re­cov­er­ing from an in­jury sus­tained dur­ing WWI on the nearby Isonzo Front – had been passed from the par­ents of her part­ner, Val­ter, to the young cou­ple in 2000, and was call­ing for some­one to man­age front-of-house op­er­a­tions. Orig­i­nally just a home cook­ing-style stopover for Ital­ians on the hunt for cheap petrol and pro­duce, Ana and Val­ter, a trained som­me­lier, had big­ger am­bi­tions for the restau­rant. But, as those hopes dulled in the hands of their ex­ist­ing kitchen staff, Ana be­came in­creas­ingly restless.

“We were of­ten dis­cussing [things] like, ‘Come on, guys, let’s try to be more lo­cal, try to fo­cus more on things.’ And then they’d be shocked [and say], ‘How should we do it?’.

“And there was no ex­am­ple of how to do things,” she says of the kitchen be­fore she donned her chef ’s whites. “I think ev­ery owner should be a role model. Be­cause that’s the only way you have a con­tin­u­a­tion of some­thing good hap­pen­ing, like a con­stant evo­lu­tion.

I [just] NEEDED to find a way to make my HANDS do it, to FOL­LOW my DREAMS in my head.

So I think they just un­der­stood they weren’t able to make us happy.”

As keen culinary trav­ellers who would gift each other in­ter­na­tional trips to ex­pe­ri­ence restau­rants such as Eng­land’s Fat Duck, Ana and Val­ter were brimming with ideas. “[We] were re­ally un­happy be­cause we had wishes and dreams, and we had no hands to re­alise them,” she says, cur­rently in Ade­laide for Tast­ing Aus­tralia. “And so it was like a nat­u­ral de­ci­sion: one day I said, ‘Okay, I’ll take over.’ It comes from sports – noth­ing is im­pos­si­ble. So when you’re in the worst po­si­tion, you can still al­ways win.

“I [just] needed to find a way to make my hands do it, to fol­low my dreams in my head.”

Af­ter step­ping into the kitchen for the first time at three months preg­nant, what fol­lowed was a decade-long self­e­d­u­ca­tion process for Ana, who still has no for­mal culinary train­ing.

“When you jump into the wa­ter, you go down or you swim out,” she tells me. “I’m not a loser by char­ac­ter. So I learned how first not to go down, and then how to go out.” >

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