The Ana Roš episode of Chef’s Table looks at how a culinary novice turned a faded restaurant into one of Europe’s great dining destinations, and in doing so, helped shape modern Slovenian cuisine. With sweeping shots of the mountains, rivers, and the verdant farmland near Roš’s restaurant, director Abigail Fuller created a lush visual ode to rural Slovenia. And, like many of the best episodes of David Gelb’s hit series, this episode establishes a clear connection between a chef’s food and her homeland.
Who is Ana Roš?
Ana Roš is the chef co-proprietor of Hiša Franko, a restaurant in Kobarid, Slovenia that currently sits at number 48 on the World’s 50 Best list. Roš runs the restaurant with her wine-expert husband Valter Kramar. The chef and sommelier live in a house attached to the restaurant, along with their children.
What was Roš’s journey through the culinary world like?
Roš was born in a rural part of Slovenia. Her father was the town doctor, and she was being groomed to be diplomat. But Ana’s life changed one night when her mom took her to Hiša Franko, the restaurant that was owned by Kramar’s family. Valter was working as a waiter that night, and, sensing that Ana was not having a great time, he invited her for a glass of wine at the bar. The two of them immediately hit it off. After dating for a while, Roš eventually turned down a job offer in Brussels to stay in Slovenia with her boyfriend. When his parents left him the restaurant, Ana decided to take over the kitchen, despite having no formal culinary training.
The restaurant floundered after Roš began running the kitchen, and they lost most of their regular customers. Both of Ana’s kids were born during this rough transitional period. “We were struggling to survive financially,” she remarks. “It wasn’t easy, this life as a chef. It was a story about survival.” A few years into running the business, Ana and Valter decided to take a tour of some of Europe’s best restaurants for inspiration, and this bit of culinary research helped the chef get see how to turn the menu at Hiša Franko into something more distinctive. Over the next five years, Roš began experimenting in the kitchen, all while looking to old cookbooks for guidance and inspiration. Valter’s chef friends helped her learn new techniques. “I started believing in myself, and I knew I was on my way,” she says.
What was her “aha” moment?
A local food critic friend of Ana and Valter’s enjoyed his meal at the restaurant one night, but urged the chef to start embracing the local culture. “When I heard that, something inside me changed,” Roš says. After leaning into Slovenian ingredients like tolmin cheese and locally-harvested trout, her menu went through a dramatic transformation. A traveling journalist was so blown away by her meal at Hiša Franko that she wrote a glowing report about the restaurant in an Italian food magazine. That bit of good press put Hiša Franko on the map. And by introducing gourmands to Slovenia’s culinary bounty, Roš inadvertently became a diplomat, of sorts, for her home country.
What are her most quotable moments?
On the importance of feeling loved in the kitchen: “Love is crucial. If we don’t have love, it’s difficult to work well. And in the kitchen that is extremely important. When one is loved, she can create better. There is more passion, more beautiful thoughts. Because of love, we do nice things, and because of love, sometimes we create catastrophes.”
On education: “I never went to culinary school, and that’s why I discovered my own way of creating which is less restrictive. Upon first sight you think, ‘Do I even like this?’ But when you put it in your mouth, the world completely changes. I’m proud of my audacity. The only thing I don’t like to hear from my guests is that the dinner was boring.”
On embracing her environment: “I realized when I expressed the territory, that my thoughts, they can travel. I was creating a philosophy and stating a new Slovenian story.”