The self-taught chef has put Slovenia on the culinary map, turning Hiša Franko restaurant in rural Kobarid into destination dining. Here she reflects on food memories that have shaped her tastes – and her menu.
One of my childhood memories is of summers with my family in Istria, Croatia, when we’d source dinner ourselves. We would go diving for clams and mussels then we’d clean them by the sea and take them to our family house, which overlooked the water. We’d cook what we found in white wine with a lot of garlic and parsley. The sea there is part of the Mediterranean, which is slightly saltier than elsewhere, so that flavoured the mussels, too. We would soak up the sauce with a lot of white bread.
Those simple meals are the ones that make me remember moments of happiness – having the family together, going under the sea and using our hands to get our own food. I’m not sure if my children will ever understand that experience because I don’t have time to spend at the seaside with them now but I try to give them other experiences. It is extremely important to me that we sit down at the table together. Even when the restaurant is packed, I always take time to eat with them, have a glass of wine and chat about the day. So I think, in their minds, food represents a moment when they are with me.
In total contrast, we also had meals with the shepherds high in the Soča Valley mountains [in Yugoslavia, now Slovenia], where I grew up. I will always remember those meals as being connected to my childhood. My father is a hunter and a doctor – and doctors in the countryside were always very respected. The Roš family was welcome everywhere we went.
I passed a lot of time with the shepherds in the mountains because my father would go hunting there early in the morning. Then in the evenings we would make frika, an old-fashioned shepherds’ dish, with potatoes and cheese. When they formed a fresh cheese, they cut it into circles. What was cut away would not be thrown out but used in this super-tasty dish. Fried in pork fat, the cheese would then slowly melt over the potatoes. If I close my eyes, I can still smell it and see it being cooked over an open fire in the shepherds’ houses. The food tasted incredible in that setting. Whenever I cook, I hope to bring back those memories or to make people as happy as I was at that time.
What is happiness, when it comes to food? You can have the best food of your life but if you have shitty company, the food is not going to taste that good. I think there are so many factors to the feelings we have when we eat a great meal. One is absolutely the person you’re eating with. The second is ambience. And the third, of course, is the flavours. It’s human and so natural to try to re-create the flavours we remember. Today, mussels in white wine, garlic and parsley is constantly on my menu, as is the frika I ate with the shepherds.
When I travel, I’m often invited to eat out. I’ve been doing a lot of that in the past year and my most memorable meal was at Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was just after the restaurant reopened [in new premises earlier this year] and the concept is to serve seafood in spring, vegetables in summer and game in autumn. I just found it so fantastic. When I was there, everything was seafood-based, from the first course to the last. It’s really hard to single out one thing as brilliant because the entire dinner was so spectacular. To make something like that possible, you must be a genius.
The chef and her sommelier husband, Valter Kramar, own and run Hiša Franko restaurant, which they inherited from his parents. While Roš has no formal training in cooking – she was set to become a diplomat before meeting Kramar – she was named The World’s Best Female Chef 2017 by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.