Chef Ana Ros.
Chef Ana Ros. Hisa Franko

From ski champ to star chef

WHEN one thinks of Slovenia, maybe it's the country's rolling green hills, or Melania Trump, that first springs to mind.

Certainly the place has not been synonymous with ground-breaking world-class cuisine - until now.

There is a taste revolution starting in the bucolic foothills and it's being led by Ana Ros.

Ros is the head chef of Hiša Franko, a restaurant she co-runs with her sommelier husband, Valter Kramar, who, in her words, she fell in love with at first sight.

A relative unknown until a few years ago, Ros is about to be launched into the global spotlight - she has been crowned the World's Best Female Chef, not a bad achievement for a self-taught former champion of the Slovenian ski team.

She will receive her award at The World's 50 Best Restaurants awards in Melbourne on April 5.

What makes Ros so impressive is the fact her foray into the fast-paced culinary world happened by chance. After meeting Valter at university and falling in love, his parents decided to pass their restaurant, Hiša Franko, on to the couple.

Ros told "Mypassion for food is something that's always evolving. I had never considered becoming a chef.

"Now our cuisine is thoughtful, tasteful and sustainable. We've brought a lot of forgotten dishes back to life and are building a New Slovenian cuisine, which makes the dining experience at Hiša Franko truly unique.”

While her story is nothing short of awe-inspiring, Ros's rise to celebrity chefdom was a trial by fire. For one, the decision to step into chef's whites resulted in a brief estrangement from Ros's parents. They have since reconciled but there have been many other challenging moments.

"There were plenty of culinary disasters, especially because I love walking on the edge of possible,” Ros said.

"Black garlic was a real struggle. After two months of work, I open my oven to find that someone had increased the humidity to 100% the previous evening and the garlic was rotting and completely covered with mould.

"Or maybe the explosion of over-fermented prawn head sauce counts, we could not get rid of the horrible dead smell for a long time. Or having an intern who does not recognise a lemon.”

But weirdly these setbacks reaped their own rewards, according to Ros.

"Being self-taught is a continuous exploration, it's about pushing yourself out of your own comfort zone and trying to achieve your very best,” she said.

"It's very tough, a lot of hours were spent in the kitchen and I wasn't really sure if I was knowledgeable enough. At the same time, it is also very rewarding. I love what I do and seeing happy guests.”

While Ros' tenacity has played a large role, part of Hiša Franko's success is also due to the love the husband and wife team have for one another.

"One of my fondest food memories from my college days were of Valter, my husband, trying to seduce a young student (me) by cooking her incredible meals, even pasta at seven in the morning.”

This love of food, and the fact neither are afraid to disagree on each other's food or wine recommendations, makes Hiša Franko what it is.

"He is the opposite of who I am. We fight, rather than discuss. Our relationship is based on disagreement. He is often angry because my dishes change so rapidly, sometimes even single ingredients in a dish changes,” Ros said.

While Ros has been recognised as the World's Best Female Chef, she has on occasion felt the pressure of being female, in what has long been seen as a man's world.

"In 2012, I was invited to take part in the last original Cook it Raw session, as the first female chef. The event was held in Poland, and everything that could possibly go wrong did.

"First I missed my flight and, as a result, the press conference. While there I was seriously bitten by a dog. Later I was in a kayak that flipped over, of course in front of all the journalists who attended the event. Finally, when I was cooking the last dinner I was stung by a bee while cutting beets, had an allergic reaction and needed a doctor. It came down to an essential question: Can a girl survive the boys' scout camp? I proved you can.”

Upon hearing she had won the title of World's Best Female Chef, Ros remained exceedingly humble.

"I was pretty silent for the first week after hearing I won the title of the World's Best Female Chef,” she said.

"The award came as a surprise to me. For the first few days I felt confused, even scared. It is a huge responsibility to accept this award, especially as a self-taught cook, but this recognition provides an opportunity for people to see Slovenia as an interesting gastronomic destination.

"To get to where I am now is a reflection of the huge personal and business sacrifices that I've made. Acknowledgements like this prove that I am on the right path and keep pushing me forward.”

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