From Skiing To Skillet: Three Michelin Star Chef Ana Roš Is All Set To Wow India

Ana Roš

Ana Roš and her team have just returned from Old Delhi’s Khari Baoli – the largest spice market in Asia. In a corner of Captain’s Cellar at the Taj Mahal hotel in the capital, along with her head chef, Yvonne Melee Simon, she is discussing the menu for the two dinners on February 17-18.

The changes were imminent. For, her micro-local approach to cooking is a forever trait. Also, she found out that while cardamom and rose may impress elsewhere, the pairing is ordinary in India. “That market was extremely beautiful, though there were moments of panic,” she says. A visit to a couple of fresh produce markets and savouring local cuisine is next on the cards. That should help finalise the dinner line-up.

“I can’t be the same in Slovenia and in Delhi,” says the three Michelin star chef — only the eighth woman in history to win three. Roš’ restaurant, Hisa Franko, in the beautiful countryside, Kobarid, also boasts of a Michelin Green Star. The tasting menu costs €325 (euros). “When you eat Hisa Franko food, you have to try it at Hisa, because it has a story and a meaning there because the produce is local. So, the food I serve here has to have Indian accents. It’s beautiful to adapt to the space and the culture of the people,” Roš says animatedly, just as an inspiration strikes and she seeks Simon for a quick chat.

Ana Roš

Destiny’s Chef

The 51-year-old celebrated chef was once a girl who couldn’t even fry an egg! “I was born in a big ambitious family. My childhood was all about school in the morning, training in the afternoon. Food was just nutrition for me,” says Roš, who made the Yugoslovanian skiing youth national team. An injury saw the contemporary dancer and skier switch to international relations at the University of Trieste, Italy. Roš speaks seven languages.

The year 2000 heralded her true calling. Roš’ then husband, Valter Kramar, had just inherited Hisa Franko. And, after a couple of years of working at front of the house, Roš took on the mantle of head chef. But it wasn’t till that breakthrough dish in 2006 that she was assured of her decision. “It was a very thin pasta filled with liquid potato, in trout and wild chive broth, with steamed trout and trout eggs, served with seaweed. I think that dish started my career somehow,” she says. With an inherited ‘cooking from heart’ personality and discipline, the self-taught chef would later put Slovenia on the world culinary map.

Roš was named world’s best female chef by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2017, a year after Netflix’s Chef’s Table ejected her into gastronomic stratosphere. She was Gault & Millau’s 2019 Slovenian chef of the year. In 2020, when Michelin Guide presented its first ever rating for Slovenia, her restaurant got two stars. In September 2023, it became three stars, and a green one for sustainability.

Ana Roš

Hyper Local Approach

Still, like the 2006 dish, it is working with the local produce rather than the anticipated posh ingredients of fine-dining that has always highlighted Roš “personal slash creative” cooking style. A reason why she doesn’t believe in signature dishes; apart from one or two none have found a lasting presence on her menus.

One survivor has been Corn Beignet – filled with mountain cheese, trout roe, and roasted polenta. A close version of the same would be served at the INR 35,000+ ‘dinner to remember’ at the Taj Mahal hotel, in collaboration with Conosh. So, by when would the whole menu will be finalised? “Probably five minutes before the dinner.” And, it might change again for the dinners next week in Mumbai.

“When you work so micro-locally and you have to be seasonal because you’re taking what the nature is giving,” Roš says. “And, living in an Alpine world with not many products or markets, you need to be very creative to put them together.”

She calls her restaurant “catwalk of nature”. For, on a May 2021 morning, “the beautiful green fields with white marguerite flowers just made me call Matea (Benedetti).” The collaboration with the fashion designer and environmentalist resulted in super chic uniforms for the Hisa Franko staff. The prints were inspired from the forests and meadows around, and foraged ingredients, on organic fabric made from sustainably sourced fibres.

‘There’s No Girls’ Club’

With the success and globetrotting came the consequences and the doubters. Some called her a marketing success. “After Netflix, we needed to build up the country and the restaurant as destination. Nobody knew where Slovenia was, nobody trusted blonde female chefs,” she says of the 500 interviews and 200 flights that followed each year.

While Roš has infiltrated the boys’ club of fine dining, she doesn’t see a sea change. “The society is not prepared for women having so strong a career as it is of a chef,” she says. “We are losing so much time talking about emancipation. Hospitality needs full dedication. A woman with a family is always somehow living between the two worlds and feeling guilty all the time.”

The ones like her, she feels, are just lucky exceptions.

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