Ana Roš


Ana Roš

Trading in a planned career as a diplomat for a job in the kitchen, self-trained chef Ana Roš has transformed Hiša Franko – her husband’s family’s restaurant just across the Italian border in Slovenia – into a globally-renowned dining destination.

People get bitten by the cooking bug in all sorts of different ways. They might see something on television as a child and instantly know it’s for them, or they might take a job as a potwasher at their local restaurant and fall in love with the high-octane thrill of service. For Ana Roš, however, an interest in cooking professionally came later in life. After meeting her future husband Valter Kramar in 2000, she left the University of Trieste and a future career in diplomacy to work in his parent’s restaurant in Kobarid, just across the Friulian border in Slovenia.

‘When I left to start at Hiša Franko my parents weren’t happy,’ she says. ‘In Slovenian society cooking isn’t really respected, so leaving an intellectual career to go into the kitchen – which is seen as a craft and something you do when you can’t do much else – meant my parents were pretty disappointed. I think my mum would still prefer it if I was a diplomat today!’

It’s easy to see why Ana’s parents were less than enthused about her decision to give up a promising career as a diplomat to work in a remote restaurant near her birthplace of Tolmin. Her father was a doctor and her mother was a journalist, and Ana had been both a promising dancer and alpine skier in her youth (as well as achieving fluency in five languages). Falling in love with Valter, moving back to Slovenia and working front of house at Hiša Franko must have seemed like a waste of opportunity. However, when the chef left and Ana moved into the kitchen, she found her calling – despite having no previous experience.

‘I learnt everything on the job – even how to manage and structure the restaurant,’ explains Ana. ‘Everything was totally new to me, so it certainly wasn’t easy. It took fifteen years of hard work to get to where I am now, which is actually quite quick when you take into account I was starting from scratch.’

In the early 2000s Slovenia was not known for its food, and while Hiša Franko was already an established restaurant, it wasn’t offering anything worth travelling for. That changed when Ana began cooking in 2002, making up for her lack of experience with ambitious creativity. ‘I made so many mistakes over the years and thought about giving up a lot, but I was always so motivated to be successful in the kitchen; I constantly pushed myself,’ she says. ‘I was also pregnant when I began cooking, which meant I wasn’t able to travel to other restaurants to see what other chefs were doing. I think this helped me to develop my own unique style.’

Running a restaurant kitchen with no experience whilst pregnant sounds like an anxiety dream come to life, but Ana thrived in her new environment. Being in a remote part of Slovenia meant suppliers were hard to come by, so Ana turned to local producers instead – something only a handful of Slovenian chefs were doing at the time. ‘I wasn’t the only one – there were two or three others at the same time all trying to be more creative with Slovenian cooking,’ she explains. ‘What really helped us was the Slow Food Movement – when I was first starting out the organisation held lots of dinners in different parts of the country, and I think that got local chefs to start thinking about regional cuisine a lot more.’

Just four years after Ana started cooking, Hiša Franko was making waves in the European food scene and invites to international conferences and food symposiums started to flood in. However, it was being featured in the 2016 edition of Chef’s Table that transformed the fortunes of Hiša Franko. The story of Ana’s journey into the kitchen combined with how she champions produce from her local surroundings made for fascinating viewing – and interest in the restaurant went truly global. A year later Ana was named The World’s Best Female Chef by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, and Hiša Franko is currently ranked as the forty-eighth best restaurant in the world. ‘I sometimes worry it’s all happened too quickly, but it has been so good for shining a light on Slovenia,’ says Ana. ‘I think we’re now a great at a point where we’re a role model for Slovenian chefs, and that the future of Slovenian cooking is very bright.’

Ana has spent the past sixteen years honing her skills in the kitchen, and is clearly a seriously talented and accomplished chef. But she stresses the fact that without the ingredients of the surrounding Soča Valley, her food would be nowhere near as good. ‘Today, when I climb the mountains nearby and turn around 360 degrees, I can see all the places where we get our produce from,’ she says. ‘Dairy is very important in this part of Slovenia and is such good quality because the landscape is so green and healthy. There are products you can’t find anywhere else in the world, such as the fermented cottage cheese, and our local cheese Tolminc has a very particular, interesting flavour. We have incredible river trout, which taste so good because of our high quality water that’s full of oxygen, and because we have such mineral-rich soil our vegetables are very special. I think being able to offer these ingredients which cannot be found anywhere else is the biggest reason Hiša Franko is such a success.’

It took Ana and Valter (who is the sommelier at Hiša Franko) many years to build up these relationships with local producers, but they now bring the very best of the region to the restaurant’s back door. Ana’s cooking has shone a spotlight on Slovenia like nothing before, and she hopes other chefs in the country now look at what’s around them rather than trying to copy what’s going on in places like Italy and France. At Hiša Franko, however, Ana continues to push forward, improving her own skills and what the restaurant offers. ‘I’m still not a totally confident chef – I always believe things can be better. What we’re focusing on now is turning Hiša Franko into a more professional restaurant instead of a family-run place. We’ve gone from having one person in the office to five and the whole team has grown, so what we offer has to reflect that.’