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.
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.” >