Three hints as to who was just named World’s Best Female Chef for 2017 on the influential, controversial The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. One: She hasn’t yet achieved the international rock-star status of, say, The Spotted Pig’s April Bloomfield, or Elena Arzak in Spain. Two: Her restaurant is located nowhere near the major metropolises that have long monopolized the global culinary scene. And three: She just so happens to come from the same country as a certain newly installed First Lady.
Give up? It’s Ana Ros, the head chef at Hisa Franko, located in the waaaay-off-the-beaten-path town of Kobarid, Slovenia, near the tiny country’s Italian border. (Population: Barely over 1,000.) If Ros’s name rings a bell, you may have caught her on the Netflix documentary series Chef’s Table, where she offered a glimpse into her idyllic work-life set-up: She and husband Valter Kramar co-own Hisa Franko (where he’s also the sommelier) after inheriting it from his parents 20 years ago, raising their two children in the apartment above the establishment.
For Ros, perhaps the only thing more unexpected than being named World’s Best Female Chef—which many would call an ill-considered category, and more on that in a minute—was becoming a chef in the first place. Ros took over Hisa Franko’s kitchen from her father-in-law despite having no formal culinary training. Raised in Slovenia by a doctor and a journalist, Ros actually studied to become a diplomat.
“As a child,” she tells the World's 50 Best site, “I had visions of being the ambassador in Tanzania, sipping my cocktails by the swimming pool.” Then in her early twenties, she began dating Kramar, who discovered that the way to her heart was through her stomach— more specifically, through repeat visits to La Subida, a Michelin-starred Slovenian restaurant located just over the border in Italy. “When he wanted to apologize, and he needed to do it often because he was always late, he brought me to that restaurant and it would make my heart race,” she explains. That feeling led to the decision to pursue a career as a chef, and while the job isn't quite like sipping cocktails by the pool, her talents are earning her an international spotlight that might make some diplomats envious.
Meanwhile, should there even be a gender-segregated category for "best female chef"? The issue is divisive, to say the least. According to the 2016 winner Dominique Crenn, “I think awards are very important because they are a platform to be able to speak up,” as she told TODAY in 2016. “The award doesn’t define you; I think it’s what you do with the award that does.” Others are less sanguine: Eater says creating a separate category for women chefs "is not only absurd, it’s insulting." The Feast weighed in on the main list's embarrassing gender imbalance last year.
In any case, for Ros, the "Best Female Chef" award means that now more diners from around the world will come to Hisa Franko to experience her five- and nine-course tasting menus, which emphasize locally sourced provisions in such dishes as hops ravioli with goat kid brain and cabbage with persimmon, whey and hazelnuts. Her work also puts a spotlight on the rich culinary tradition of Slovenia, a country which didn’t obtain independence until the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991. “People still see Slovenia as a little province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and sometimes we had people come to the restaurant thinking, ‘Who said Slovenia could have good food?’” Ros says. Thanks to her, more people than ever will be saying that now.
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