Ana Roš is the chef-owner of the highly acclaimed Hiša Franko restaurant in Kobarid, Slovenia. Nestled between the mountains and the sea, the restaurant has a highly seasonal and local cuisine that has helped put Slovenian gastronomy on the map. Having starred in Netflix's Chef's Table and been named the World's Best Female Chef in 2017 by the World's Best Restaurants, Roš will be one of the Seven Sages at S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2018, the distinguished international chefs jury who will ultimately decide the winner of the most exciting talent search for the best young chef in the world.
We caught up with Roš to talk about the importance of owning your mistakes and why a healthy body and mind is essential in the kitchen.
How do you continue to learn and hone your craft whilst running a successful business?
I think you’ve already answered the question. We have to work hard and be creative to have clients and to be able to survive. Only if I’m creative can I be successful.
As your profile has risen, presumably you’re travelling more? How do you feel being away from the restaurant for long periods?
First of all I have a brilliant team at home: a very good head chef who can run the kitchen without any trouble. But also when I’m away I’m in contact with the restaurant for a few hours a day. There is no decision making without me. Also, when I travel, I travel short term, so I try to get back as soon as possible – so no holiday making! But you know, living in the countryside like we do, we need to network a bit more than restaurants in cities where contact between chefs, opinion makers and foodies is much easier and more convenient.
Do you feel a responsibility to promote Slovenian cuisine abroad?
I have a platform to talk about Slovenian cuisine and I think I’ve used it really well. There is a lot of attention on Slovenia at the moment. I think I did 510 interviews last year – it’s a lot. Now it’s also on other chefs to take advantage of this attention and do something with it.
You’ve long espoused the importance of work/balance. Do you think restaurant culture is changing in favour of chef welfare?
Absolutely. I’m trying to balance my private and personal life as much as possible. So, feeling less guilty when I am with the family or I do things for myself. Because if you do want to remain in this business for life or in the long term, you need to find this balance, otherwise you just burn out. Women, especially, in this industry live with a constant sense of guilt: you’re never enough for your family, you’re never enough for your team, you never travel enough. There’s nothing you can do about that. I think in this world we are all capable of finding the balance and we shouldn’t feel guilty when we take time for ourselves. So I started not taking any interviews or work commitments before 10am, so I can have an hour or two to myself. I can have five minutes with my friends if I want, because once I open my computer and turn on my phone I start being totally involved in this world. And I’m not the only one: a lot of world famous chefs are taking more and more time for themselves, taking more time to go on holidays with their families. They take time for their morning work out, their morning running, or morning yoga. I think this is just a survival kit.
And do you encourage your staff to do the same?
Oh they’re doing it. We sorted the timetable in the restaurant two years ago already, so everybody comes to work at 11am during the week and at 10am on the weekends. We’re organising yoga classes for everyone, I think more than half of the kitchen team is runners. But there is another thing, we started eating super healthy food. We always have some healthy snacks available for everyone when we have our family meals, they’re mostly vegetable-based, a lot of soups. There’s a good balance between fish and meat. Some people say we have the best family meal food around the world, we really keep an eye on that.
What advice would you offer to the young chefs competing at S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2018?
Be yourself, absolutely. Be yourself because only when you are yourself can you be really unique and different.
What was your biggest success and biggest mistake as a young chef?
We all make a lot of mistakes on our way and when we do make them and realise it, we grow. I believe the engine of success is actually doubting and making mistakes, and realising we’re making mistakes. And sometimes you know, mistakes can be turned into positive things. I cannot point out the biggest mistake in my life because there were so many, nor which was the biggest success, because success is not measurable. I still make mistakes on a daily basis.
What are the biggest issue/issues facing the future of haute cuisine?
One of the biggest steps in gastronomy in the last decade was the move towards territory, local, and nature, which was super important. I think in the long term we will all have to keep in mind that chefs should be kind of promoters of the whole industry. So our philosophies should be the ones that enter into the homes of people to help them understand what healthy food is, how to treat themselves on a daily basis, how to select good vegetables, and how to remain seasonal and territorial. So I think we are responsible for every single household around the world because we can help people understand how to eat in a healthier way.
On the other side everyone is screaming that probably in 15 years time the world is going to focus on hunger, everybody is talking about that. We will all have to become more rational about our use of ingredients, use of nature, gardens, farming and so on. I think it’s going to be a big challenge for chefs and the whole world.
What trends will we see emerging in restaurants in the next couple of years?
I personally really believe there is a time to come for alpine cuisine. No one’s really talked loud about that until now. But alpine regions like Northern Italy, Austria, Slovenia, the French Alps, and Switzerland have incredible richness of products that have been intact for decades and centuries. There has always been a rational use of foraging and gardening because people always knew how to live hand in hand with nature. So I think that is one of the last corners with really original products. And there are more and more very interesting chefs.
Any plans or news you’d like to share?
Last year we opened a little bistro, which was a pretty big challenge because we did it in the super high season in a super difficult year. So this year we are trying to develop it a little bit better. I think it’s a beautiful challenge because Slovenia is liking the restaurants with really traditional cuisine, with totally traceable products. So one day, but not today, we will probably try to franchise that idea in other corners of Slovenia. I think Slovenia really needs us, so we are not moving towards China or Hong Kong.