Ana, you’ll be reopening Hiša Franko on March 18, after a long break. How do you feel about that?
I’m ok actually, less stressed than before, mainly because most of the team has stayed with me. I know them well. I am quite sensitive to energies, and I sometimes find it difficult to adapt to others, to understand their motivations and even their talents. But we’ll be trying out our menu at 7pm on March 17, and I’ll survive!
How did you experience this pause, this break? Was it a time for perspective and reflection or quite the opposite, a chance to live more intensely?
The first part of the break I dedicated to my family. I’m a mum, we have a house. I had travelled so much that I hadn’t had time to get things in order at home, I had some projects to finish, and I didn’t want any help, it was something I had to do by myself. I spent a lot of time with my children, which was really great. We also travelled despite my fear of being stranded. We went to Cuba. That was a disaster because we made our won travel arrangements. Chefs are reputedly control freaks who have an orderly view of the world, but nothing went as planned. Cuba was not doing so well, the Peso was not worth much… My therapist told me the trip was a huge challenge to my personality: as a chef, I always expect to find what I need regardless of where I am, but how am I to react when nothing goes to plan? But I was fortunate to spend some wonderful quality time with my children, with no internet, smartphones, simply playing cards together. Sometimes you need to see things from a completely different angle.
Being a mum and a chef, while managing a challenging career is important to you. You speak quite naturally about this. Is it still as important today?
I think about it every day, ever since I became a mother 19 years ago. Whether you’re a chef or other, regardless of your career, all mothers have the same difficulties of never having enough time to take on the different roles. I was talking to a friend the other day who was surprised that I don’t hire help for my housecleaning despite having a huge workload. I explained that it’s part of the game, I need to feel that I can also look after my family in addition to the restaurant, and also take care of the housekeeping. Of course, sometimes you go into overdrive, trying to be everywhere at once, and you simply can’t. So, you feel doubly guilty, when you’re with your children you’re not with your team and customers and conversely. But I believe from my experience of travelling to Cuba with my children, that it makes the family stronger because we get to talk to each other. This fulfilment that mother-chefs can feel is essential, knowing that their children are well.
You are the President of Honour of the Bocuse d’Or Europe 2022. What does this mean to you, what’s your view of contests in general? How will you approach your role?
I think it is important to stress that I feel most honoured. I’m a self-made chef, I did not go to culinary school, I didn’t have any training. I declined to take part in Masterchef because it’s not the type of thing I support really. However, we have always respected and followed the Bocuse d’Or, as the contest reveals great talents in gastronomy, the world’s top chefs have ties with the event. For me who entered the cooking world through the backdoor this represents one of the most important successes in my life. As for who will be the winners, I would say they are all well-prepared and talented chefs, and I’ll be there. I see it as a tribute to those who have fought to be where they are without any help. Cooking is subjective, it is difficult to judge but some things can be assessed: precision, passion … There’s a difference between someone who cooks with much dedication and enthusiasm and someone who simply cooks as a job. This is something that is very important to me, it will be quite a challenge!”.
Your career has taken many twists and turns, your diplomas, you speak several languages, you also followed your vocation out of love. Looking back on your career, what do you see today, are you at an important crossroad?
Yes, a major crossroad. For someone who has dreams, each moment is a sort of crossroad. I like to think I still have some time before me to do things better: cook better, gardening, understanding the surrounding environment, Mother Nature. I’m looking forward to launching our new season 2022 at Hiša Franko because our menu introduces a fresh approach to our cooking, placing the emphasis on ultra-local products, prepared with the techniques and creativity required to deliver refined cuisine.
What experience do you want to offer at Hiša Franko for customers who visit your restaurant, or for some, Slovenia?
Through our products and ingredients and how we prepare them, I believe we are quite clear about who we are, our traditions, the surrounding landscape. I think that after enjoying a meal at our restaurant, you know that you are in a unique environment where nothing is globalised. The products don’t travel, we only source them from the local producers’ market, there are no supermarkets nearby. We can mention ricotta, cottage cheese, they will have unique flavours. We endeavour to highlight the beauty of nature, of western Slovenia. In a preserved world, with no industry, the products retain their original and straightforward taste that is sometimes missing in today’s gastronomy.
What is your culinary obsession at this time?
We’re learning to use fish and meat as spices. They contribute to the seasoning of the plants on our menu. We started to look into this last year, and we are quite enthusiastic. We’re not really a vegetarian restaurant but there are no actual meat dishes on the menu.