> Chefs

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.’

Three things you should know

As well as Hiša Franko, Ana and her husband Valter Kramar own Hiša Polonka, a more relaxed restaurant that specialises in the traditional rustic dishes of the region.

Ana sources ninety-five percent of her core ingredients from the surrounding area, including game from local hunters and seafood from a saltwater lagoon fifty kilometres from the restaurant.

Ana’s most famous dish is her stuffed pasta, which is filled and flavoured with local ingredients.