Pursuing Gastronomy in Slovenia
Tell us about Slovenia and Slovenian Cuisine.
Slovenia is a tiny country with a population of about two million people. It’s shares borders with Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia,
Dishes from Austria, Northern Italy, and Slovenia have a lot in common and are collectively known as “Mediterranean food of the mountains.” Slovenia is lush with greens. The climate tends to vary from region to region, giving rise to a variety of ingredients.
The country has not been affected much by globalization. Plastic products are hardly used and people try to live in harmony with the environment. For local products, it’s always very clear where they come from. For example, the name of the cow is displayed for dairy products and the name of the farm is indicated for vegetables. The ingredients create less food miles because they are mostly sourced locally. It’s sustainable and I think this is how the world of the future should be.
Hiša Franko is in a very rural area, even for Slovenia. There are no suppliers bringing in agricultural produce because the area is so rich in nature. We use only local ingredients. The food is limited to what you see in the restaurant and the food that has traveled the most comes from the sea 50 km away. My cooking is flexible and changes with the seasons. When new ingredients come to me, I go about making changes to my dishes, one by one.
An Ambitious Childhood: Going from Aspiring Diplomat to Chef.
Were you interested in cooking ever since you were a child?
Not at all! I was into sports when I was young, and did competitive skiing and ballet. Skiing is the national sport of Slovenia and athletes who are good at it are highly regarded in the country. As for ballet, I was planning to go to Paris to take formal lessons, but I hurt my leg from too much practice and had to give up my dream of becoming a ballet dancer.
How was your family growing up? Did you have any relatives working in cooking?
No, my father was a doctor and my mother was journalist. She was working as a regional correspondent for the newspaper and wrote about a variety of subjects including politics, economics, and sports. I have a sister who is a year younger than me and we were raised almost like twins.
Since my mother was quite busy, she usually made simple and nutritionally balanced veggie dishes, rather than traditional food. Living in a seaside town, fish often made an appearance on the dinner table. However, I was too busy with skiing and ballet, and didn’t have much time to cook. In my student years, I would get together with friends after a party and make pasta together at 5:00 a.m. That was my first brush with cooking.
My parents always told me to be ambitious when I was growing up. Slovenia doesn’t have a gastronomic culture, so restaurant jobs were not well-respected. My parents hoped for me to become a doctor or engage in a job that I could be proud of.
So, how did you get into cooking?
I was studying to be a diplomat. In my last year of university, I met my husband, Valter, and fell in love. That’s when my life took a big turn.
The restaurant I am working at, Hiša Franko, was originally opened in 1973 by Valter’s parents. I went there for dinner with my family one day and that’s where I met him for the first time. He was serving us.
My mother is sharp. She didn’t discourage me from being in love, but she indirectly expressed concern about me being unable to complete my credits because of my relationship. She said that she was worried that I would become someone who could not see my goals through to the end. It was eye-opening for me and motivated me to finish my course.
Not long after my graduation, my in-laws retired and my husband took over their restaurant. I had also decided to work alongside my husband at Hiša Franko, but my parents were not happy with my decision. My father didn’t speak to me for six months, until my grandmother mediated. My mother didn’t express her feelings in words, but she seemed very disappointed.
My mother has a lot of pride. Recently, I went to yoga retreat in Sri Lanka with her. Someone recognized me and wanted to take a picture together. Afterwards, that person asked my mother what it’s like to have a famous cook as a daughter. She replied saying, “My daughter isn’t a cook, she’s a chef.” I had to reproach her by saying that it’s pretty much the same thing.
Have your parents influenced your approach to cooking in any way?
I think I get my sense of curiosity and vigor from my parents. I spent Three months
in Tanzania when I was 15. I had a neighborhood friend who was around the same age. Her family moved to Tanzania because her father was posted as a factory manager in Dar Es Salaam, so I went to visit them.
At the time, Tanzania was an impoverished country. I spent time with the people there and I have unforgettable memories of visiting Ethiopian eateries in the slums and eating with my hands. Through those experiences, I came to see how white people treat Africans. There is no superiority when it comes to race. Similarly, I believe that cuisines cannot be compared.
For example, an Italian chef working in Asia who eats nothing but pasta instead of the local food displays a form of colonization. I’m personally interested trying a variety of local dishes when I go abroad.
That’s why I think having a memory of childhood flavors is important. Even if you forget the taste itself, it may contribute to shaping your personality. Food is an important aspect of growing up and it brings joy. People need to treasure the flavors that remain buried deep in their hearts.