We arrived after a short drive from Italy to the smile of the staff at Hisa Franko, they remembered me from my last visit – so we joke around after a glass of wine is poured.
We are waiting for Ana Roš to arrive who is up in the local mountains surrounding the Soča Valley. She is shooting the last segment of Chef’s Table an American documentary series released on Netflix. Each episode of the series profiles a single world-renowned chef and its her turn.
There is no doubt that a visit to Slovenia to see Ana is well worth the visit and Hiša Franko is deserving of no less that one Michelin star. There you can listen to the Slovenian countryside – those familiar noises and the water rushing down the river adjacent to her restaurant’s outdoors terrace with plenty of fresh air. I say to myself breath, which is something I rarely do in the city – the air is so pure.
The cuisine of Ana Roš is all about her life, her kitchen and the challenges of working in a remote place. There are obvious advantages to being in the middle of nature and some disadvantages. In the winter the valley is very cold, snowy and clients are much less. There is no doubt she is challenged by her own natural surroundings but she loves them. It’s here the valley has its own story to tell.
Sipping a Slovenian white wine I can’t help to think it about the immense history surrounding this valley and mountains here. Kobarid is home to her new project (a bistro) but more importantly it’s known for the 1917 Battle of Caporetto where 10,000 were killed and 30,000 wounded and 265,000 were taken prisoner.
The Italian retreat here was well documented by Ernest Hemingway in his novel A Farewell to Arms and in the early editions, the words “shit,” “fuck,” and “cocksucker” were replaced with dashes. The use of poison gas by the Germans also played a key role in the collapse of the Italian Second Army.
Ana’s approach to the kitchen is definitely technical with an emphasis on local fresh ingredients including numerous mountain herbs and flowers. She extracts the brightest green color with her Greenstar and hand rolls the perfect pasta shapes. Her fish is hand-picked and her way of combining hot and cold flavors takes you on a umami journey.
She is obsessed with the idea of texture, temperature and purity of taste, or the combination of all three. She adds another dimension with a focus on temperature-texture, so you can find a crispy and crunchy, or black ash with a chewy and sweet rind peel all in the same composition. I see her more like a painter who develops a palate, a theme, but is more interested in the composition and structure of taste.
Clearly Ana understands how taste works even though not everyone is adventurous as she is. I recall the last time I was there she served raw deer heart, and when she asks, “any dietary restrictions”, I say, “no hearts please”.
What I like about her cuisine is the way she uses Asian influence (subtly) and there is no doubt she adores spices. My dinner partner (AP) seemed caught off guard by the use of the hidden long spices in the pasta dish – I too was surprised but liked it. I thought how cleaver is that zing but that’s probably because I adore pepper.
In my creations you can feel
Love for essential, raw food
Love for filled pastas
Respect of terroir
And of the season
And with my deserts again from the beginning-same ingredients
And similar sweet-salty combinations.
After dinner she takes us outside in the pitch dark to see her organic vegetable gardens. Behind her house is the mountain where she picks herbs such as ransom one of the most sought after Himalayan herbal remedies. There are plenty of nettles, wild garlic, or little sprouts from wild plants. This is truly foraging and is as easy as opening the kitchen door.
Behind the kitchen she has a large hold where they raise some local trouts. The unspoiled valleys that run through the Julian Alps and form the Soča and Sava river systems also run through her trout hold. The Soča river drainage is fed from crystal clear mountain waters that run over limestone and is rich in insect and fish life.
The Soča and its tributaries are famous for its indigenous Marble Trout that are now found only in a few river systems. There is also the Adriatic grayling, rainbow trout, marble-brown trout hybrid, brown trout, chub and barbel.
The bread is baked at the restaurant and is just superb and served warm – she buys her flour from Molino Cudicio – a bon address.
Address: Via Ermes di Colloredo, 7, 33043 Cividale del Friuli UD, Italy
T: +39 0432 700100
Walking in her kitchen I saw many kitchen twists and turns, smart inventive techniques and there is no doubt she works hard to achieve a balance between what is possible, whats not, what works and what doesn’t. That takes plenty of time, experience and technique.
Her key focus is on the tradition, raw materials and the use of simple techniques – they all go hand in hand and whatever cannot be done with machines – is made by hand.
The one thing I truly appreciate about Ana is her desire to ferment and only through experimentation she can discover the key to unlocking new aromas and flavors. Never forget natural fermentation precedes human history.
The king of mountain heaven is what the locals call the Tolminc cheese – a hard whole-milk cheese with a smooth rind and cylindrical form made by Valter. This cheese has a long and rich tradition and it is only made in the Upper Soča Valley:
Marble trout plum marinated in vinegar, soup of ginger, fresh young corn and purslane:
Ravioli foie gras smoked figues, tonka sauce and long pepper:
Squids filled with lamb sweetbreads, black garlic and cave cheese:
Monkfish fried in ashes, pepperoni and miso, foamed egg:
Pasta filled with sheep cottage cheese, langoustines, Chantarelle, bone marrow:
Mackerel with sliced string beans, candied citrus and edible gold:
Duck toasted on skin and spices, beetroot, old fashion onions marinated in pink grapefruit, bitter orange and melting pumpkin:
The cellar is very pretty and well stocked given Valter is a keen sommelier with plenty of wine know-how:
Address: Staro selo 1, 5222 Kobarid, Slovenia
T: +386 5 389 41 20