How a Self-taught Chef Became World Number One

SLIDESHOW: Former national ski champion, Slovenian chef Ana Roš of Hiša Franko and her favourite dishes.

​Self-taught chef Ana Roš of Hiša Franko in Kobarid, Slovenia, has been named the Best Female Chef 2017 at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Roš has been influenced by Slovenia’s neighbouring countries — Italy, Hungary, Austria and Croatia.

At Hiša Franko, Roš draws inspiration from Slovenia’s traditional culinary heritage that she grew up with, but adds surprising twists and ingredients such as snails, trout liver and goat kid’s brains. Housed in an historic 1860 building, Hiša Franko is a family business, with Roš working alongside her sommelier husband, Valter. With Hiša Franko situated in Slovenia’s beautiful Soča Valley only 3km from the Italian border, Roš takes full advantage of the location to source ingredients from local producers.

A former national ski champion, Roš originally pursued a career in the diplomatic corps. However, she and Valter took ownership of Hiša Franko from Valter’s father, prompting Roš to begin her gastronomic journey. While honing her culinary skills, Roš discovered the exceptional quality and diversity of Soča Valley produce. Building on this foundation, Roš developed a sophisticated, seasonal menu that highlights the freshness of local ingredients and introduces gourmands to the traditions of her native cuisine. She was recently featured in the acclaimed Netflix series, Chef’s Table.

She says that winning the award will be transformational for her work and her country. “I live in a pretty unknown part of the world and there is so much that can be done to promote the area in terms of tourism and gastronomy,” says Roš. “This award provides an opportunity for people to see Slovenia as an interesting gastronomic destination. Acknowledgements such as this prove that I am on the right path and keep pushing me forward.”

Roš hopes to build a New Slovenian Cuisine to help put Slovenia on the culinary map. “Hiša Franko is trying to develop a unique way of how a countryside restaurant should be. We’ve brought a lot of forgotten dishes back to life, and are building a New Slovenian cuisine. The results are fascinating, but it is still a work in progress. I am constantly exploring new ways of integrating Slovenia’s terroir into my cuisine.”

When asked to describe some of Hiša Franko’s signature dishes, she says she does not believe in them. “We are in a constant evolution and as we are changing, our perception of food changes with it. Sometimes a particular dish even stays on the menu for a year or two. But even our guests realise that our food comes from another era, another time.”

Throughout her career, Roš has connected food with philanthropy. The 44-year-old chef has travelled to India to mentor underprivileged girls, taught recovering addicts how to cook and hosts an annual event for local children in her kitchen to demonstrate the simple pleasures of baking bread. “Sharing is important; you do not have to be rich to be good to the people who need it,” she says. “Sometimes small gestures are more meaningful and more important than giving money, thinking this is the only way to help. And since I cook I can help by cooking.”

Roš follows in the footsteps of many female chefs in holding this prestigious title, including the inimitable Dominique Crenn in 2016, as well as Hélène Darroze (2015), Helena Rizzo (2014), Elena Arzak (2013), Nadia Santini (2012) and Anne-Sophie Pic (2011). The selection of this year’s winner also reflects the broad gastronomic geography of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants brand, shining the spotlight on a chef from a relatively little-known culinary country.

The World’s Best Female Chef Award is voted for by almost 1,000 international restaurant industry experts and well-travelled gourmets who make up The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy. The Academy comprises 26 separate regions around the world, each of which has 40 members, including a chairperson. None of the event’s sponsors have any influence over the voting process.

“Ana Roš is a very worthy recipient of this year’s World’s Best Female Chef honour,” says William Drew, group editor of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. “Her precision, attention to detail and imagination distinguish her as a true leader in global gastronomy. Her passion for local ingredients, her investment in people and her commitment to elevating the culinary arts in her native Slovenia make her an inspirational role model.”

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