The World’s Best Female Chef Award; What it Means to be a Female Chef
In 2017, you were selected as the World’s Best Female Chef. Are there any advantages in being a female chef?
I think there are. Female chefs tend to garner more attention than men. For example, after I won the award, I was interviewed 510 times over a one-year period. Chefs like Massimo Bottura and Daniel Humm, who were awarded the World’s Best, were not interviewed as much.
There are still very few female chefs, even at an international level.
When it comes to cooking, gender doesn’t matter. There are plenty of male chefs who have more refined sensibilities than women.
The industry is tough and I think a woman’s social roles are generally more complicated than a man’s. In Slovenia, in particular, men are expected to work outside while the woman takes care of household duties. If a child misbehaves in school, it’s typically the mother who’s called. It’s difficult to change that kind of thinking in a single generation.
However, I do feel like men and women have different roles. For example, I don’t think a man can play the role of the mother. The mother should take care of the children. It’s important to make that time to show warmth to your child.
My in-laws live with us and we have a reliable team, so it’s easy for us to leave the restaurant to take care of the children or go abroad. We can keep in touch with the children through the phone. In terms of child-rearing, I think it’s important to show them that we care.
At the same time, we shouldn’t try to handle everything by ourselves. When the kids were very young, there were even times I had customers look after them while I was cooking.
I’m very extroverted, and I was not caught up in the idea that I had to raise my children all by myself. I think that’s one reason why I was able to balance things well. I think another big factor is that the children consider the staff members as part of the family.
How do you build that kind of familial relationship with staff members?
Spending time and making happy memories together. It’s important to get to know people’s personalities in order to have good communication. Starting this year, I’ve been inviting them to yoga classes or go running together a few times a week for good communication.
It’s healthier than smoking together, right? Family members can also attend the staff meals. Everyone takes turn to cook, just like a real family.
Future Dreams: Gastronomic Diplomacy
What are your goals from here onwards?
In interviews, I’m always asked about my next project after becoming the World’s Best Female Chef. It makes me feel like I have to seek out a new venture.
My parents always told me to have ambition. I actually used to have low self-esteem. That’s why I feel like I have to periodically research and find ways to make my dishes even better.
The menu, of course, changes on a regular basis. We change as we go about our lives every day, and it goes the same for food.
One of my recent projects was opening an osteria last year. The customers who used to enjoy my mother-in-law’s cooking have come back. We serve traditional dishes with a contemporary twist. They are low-fat and made with local produce and herbs.
Do you have any advice for young people who want to open their own restaurants?
Your cooking encompasses your own history and narrative. I believe that you have to find the answers that you are seeking by yourself.
To succeed, you have to be modest, inquisitive, rise to challenges, be open to all kinds of people, and have the heart of a child. Children often ask questions, right? It’s because they have creativity.
It’s also crucial to stay motivated and maintain discipline.
You chose to become a chef instead of a diplomat. However, now we hear words like “gastronomic diplomacy” being used. What does being a chef and a diplomat have in common?
Some of my former classmates work in foreign affairs and embassies around the world. A few of them have told me things like, “Ana, you’ve returned to the world of diplomacy, and you’re doing much better at it than we are.”
Eating is the most beautiful aspect of culture. My mission is to build a bridge between people and culture. I hope to bring in more people to Slovenia and have people recognize it a gastronomic destination.
(Interviewer, Text, Photograph: Kyoko Nakayama)
Image provision：Suzan Gabrijan
Image provision：Suzan Gabrijan