Poor Ana Ros. For the next 12 months the uniquely talented chef of Restaurant Hisa Franko in Slovenia will be peppered with more questions about being female than about being a chef.
That must be the only bad side of being awarded the gong of the World's Best Female Chef for 2017 by the almost 1000 international restaurant industry judges for the World's 50 Best Restaurants Awards. The good side, she says, far outweighs the bad.
"Acknowledgements like this prove that I am on the right path, and keep pushing me forward," she says. "We are building a new Slovenian cuisine which makes the dining experience at Hisa Franko truly unique."
Besides, she is capable of answering those who question the need for a World's Best Female Chef award when there is no award for World's Best Male Chef.
"The difference between a male and a female chef is related to the traditional roles in our society, not about the quality of the food or technical skills," she says. "We all share the same love and passion for the industry."
Something strange is going on in the world of celebrity chefdom when this annual World's 50 Best accolade goes to a modest chef in Slovenia who inherited her husband's family restaurant and decided to make the best of it. When the World's Best Female Chef is a mother of two who lives on the premises above the shop, and has done for 16 years. When her everyday life revolves around a small village that is so remote, it doesn't have a single produce store. "It's because everybody here grows and cooks their own food," explains Ros.
A contemporary dancer and former champion of the national ski team, the young Ana was fluent in five languages, and all set for a diplomatic career when she met the charismatic, wine-loving Valter Kramar on the slopes.
When Valter's parents relinquished their family restaurant to their son in 2000, Ros took over the restaurant kitchen, without any formal culinary training. When asked about her culinary mentors, she says, "I am completely self-taught".
Without preconceived ideas of what "fine dining" food should be, Ros simply cooked with what was around her – wild mushrooms, alpine trout, berries, flowers, sweet, fresh milks and cheeses, meadow lambs and forest honey. There is always pasta, filled with sheep's milk cheese and served with langoustine and bone marrow; or with roebuck deer, served with quince, kale and mussels. It's a personal, heartfelt cuisine embedded in the season and the terroir.
Valter runs the wine cellar, which favours biodynamic Slovenian wines, and cheese cellar, in which he ages the local, hand-made Tolmin cheeses. "The main idea at Hisa Franko is to keep tradition alive," says Ros. "We've built a chain of strictly local producers, and brought a lot of forgotten dishes back to life."
Yet it has been a slow burn for Hisa Franko in terms of global recognition. Very few of the world's high-flying gastronomes drive the pot-holed roads to the remote village of Kobarid, three kilometres from the alpine Italian border. In 2012, the ever-prescient Paris-based food journalist Alexander Lobrano made the trek, however, alerting the outside world to this very real talent.
From there, Netflix took note, promptly devoting one of their mesmerising Chef's Table documentary series to the Ana Ros story. (Typically for this modest chef, she hadn't even seen the finished documentary until she was the guest of the Margaret River Gourmet Escape last November, when she watched it, bare-footed and glass of wine in hand, with Valter and her children at an outdoor cinema set up on the grassy slopes of the Happs Winery.)
The passing of the Best Female Chef baton from Atelier Crenn's Dominique Crenn to Ana Ros will take place on stage at the World's 50 Best Awards at the Royal Exhibition Buildings in Melbourne on Wednesday, April 5. The two chefs are very different – Crenn is an urban, sophisticated, articulate, charismatic and ambitious French-born San Franciscan – but they share the same qualities of strength, drive, creativity, courage and above all, persistence.
In spite of Crenn's two Michelin-star restaurant not (as yet) making it onto the top 50 list, she worked her award hard, travelling the world, mentoring students, judging competitions, charming TV viewers, giving TED talks and raising hell after hours. Crenn used it as a springboard for both her and for her business.
Ana Ros will do the same, although she says she was "silent" for a week when told the news. "I felt confused," she says. "Scared, even." She aims to use her new-found fame to put Slovenia and its food on the map. "There will be a lot happening," she says, then pauses. "But not too much."
And rather than raising hell on the night of the awards, she is more likely to clink a quiet glass of Rojac Malvazija wine with Valter, make sure the kids are in bed, and quietly dream of what is to come.
Hisa Franko, Kobarid, Slovenia, hisafranko.com
See theworlds50best.com for more announcements.