A master chef is bringing attention to the cuisine of first lady Melania Trump’s homeland.
Ana Ros (pronounced ROSH), who starred last year in an episode of the Chef’s Table Netflix series, runs what some consider Slovenia’s best restaurant in a remote village inn.
Slovenian tourism officials recently brought Ros to New York to showcase her culinary talents at a time when tourism in the tiny country is booming, up to nearly 3 million tourists a year in a country of 2 million people.
Ros heads the kitchen in an inn called Hisa Franko (Frank’s house). Her ever-changing menu there reads like no other, to name just a few dishes: fried white asparagus with celery cream; arctic char with wild berries and buttermilk; pasta filled with whipped cheese from sheep in nearby pastures, served with langoustines and mushrooms; and pork and lobster with ginger and pickled garlic on a bed of ancient Indian herbal leaves.
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Ros’ husband, cheese and wine expert Valter Kramar, inherited Hisa Franko and a small farm from his father. The inn is in the remote village of Kobarid, in the western part of the country, surrounded by pine forests in the emerald Soca River Valley. It was here that Ernest Hemingway set part of his World War I novel A Farewell to Arms.
“We can see Italy and the boats in the Adriatic Sea,” said Ros, looking exuberant as she described the sight. The Italian border is just a mile away.
Ros’ cooking skills are largely self-taught, though she was mentored by culinary luminaries to become a master chef of a surprising cuisine.
“I found my own way of creating that’s in some way freer,” she says, adding that the only thing she’d hate to hear from guests “would be that the dinner was boring.”
Ros, 44, and Kramar, 49, have traveled the world, blending global tastes and techniques with ingredients from local fields and barns, and their own vegetable and herb garden. In some ways, Ros’ menus reflect the cross-currents that define Slovenia, nestled as it is between Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia.
“Slovenia is a perfect mix of landscape and culture — the sea, the Alps and the rolling hills and plains, close to each other, with Mediterranean, Central European and Balkan influences,” says Andrej Smrekar, an art curator at Ljubljana’s National Gallery of Slovenia who helped turn a medieval monastery church in the countryside into a modern art gallery. “Tourists have a taste for what’s authentic, but to them unknown and untouched.”
When Melania Trump was a student in Ljubljana in the 1980s, the city was rocked by punk rebels and activists impatient to shake off the vestiges of drab socialist bureaucracy. Slovenia was mostly spared in the brutal civil war that followed independence from Yugoslavia of other republics farther south, including Bosnia.
Now, Ljubljana is a lively metropolis of about 300,000 residents, some running sleek modern stores with high-tech electronics and designer fashions, fast-food eateries and even a prison turned into a stylish hotel. Meanwhile, the city’s roots go back to prehistory: A museum displays the earliest wheel used by humans in the area, before the ancient Romans arrived.
The city center is traffic-free, with pedestrians crossing the river over a historic triple stone bridge that leads to outdoor produce vendors, a seafood market and shops offering everything from bread freshly baked in a wood-fired oven and smoked meats and cheeses to flowers, spices and artisanal candles.
Less than an hour east of Ljubljana is Sevnica, the industrial town where Trump was born and raised. There’s little to see except an old castle and her childhood apartment block. But the surroundings are enchanting, with a five-century tradition of wood rafting on the Sava River, and lodging amid a colony of white storks.
Elsewhere, Slovenia offers everything from beaches on the Adriatic Sea to skiing, whitewater rapids and Lipizzaner horseback riding.
Slovenian tourism officials touted the country’s many attractions over the dinner Ros prepared for some 90 foodies in New York. Their message blended with the evening’s flavors, summing up Slovenia’s allure: a marriage of the old and the new, as simple and sublime as the dishes Ros meticulously plates.
If you go…
Hisa Franko: http://www.hisafranko.com/en/
Slovenia Tourism: https://www.slovenia.info/en