In his own words, Lior Kochavy did not know how to crack an egg and make an omelette for himself. If he knew how to cook, Open Kitchen or Odprta Kuhna as it is known in Slovenia would not exist.
Earlier this month it opened for the European Food Summit. This year will be the seventh edition of the project, the brainchild of Lior and his wife Alma. This one of a kind food market attracts around 50 restaurants to Slovenia’s capital to showcase what the country has to offer.
Every Friday from March to October, hungry visitors flock to the market to savour food from some of the city’s best establishments as well as restaurants from other parts of Slovenia. They serve sample and cheaper portions of their restaurant dishes with a number of beer and wine stalls to add to the atmosphere.
Lior arrived in Slovenia in 2006 from Israel. “It was all different for me when I arrived here,” he said at the European Food Summit which was organised in Ljubljana earlier this month.
“I was used to 35 degree temperature all year round and here there were valleys and four seasons. The food was also so different. What was more exciting to me was the concept of organic farming, zero kilometres, restaurants run for a few generations and even regional diversity which came as a huge surprise. I wanted to learn more,” he said.
Lior said that he took a day trip with his future wife Alma and visited 5 restaurants in Soca Valley ending at the cost. “Despite Slovenia being a small country, I could feel how rich and diverse it was.”
One day on a weekend when his wife was abroad he was hungry with no idea what to eat and no cooking skills and thought how great it would be if the restaurants they had visited together would ‘come to Ljubljana and bring their specialities with them.”
“The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. Together with Alma we framed the whole idea but did know what the first step would be, where to begin. We could not knock on the mayor’s door but then we said to ourselves why not,” he said.
They were lucky to get buy-in from the mayor for the idea and within four months from the announcement they organised the first event.
Lior said that one of the reasons he wanted to create this project was to highlight the diversity and the need for Slovenia to be recognised as a culinary destination. “When we started, people were laughing at us. The toughest part of the job was to convince them to trust us, to cross their borders and come to the market place. Some did not believe in our concept but we were stubborn and persistent and we managed to convince many to see our vision through.”
Lior said that they had three criteria when it comes to Odprta Kuhna. “The first is quality, we know every dish that is being served. The second is diversity, we make sure that no dish is repeated so only one restaurant can serve a particular dish. That eliminated the competition. The third was creativity which is how to bring the best restaurants and turn their classic cuisine into a street food concept.”
Up till today, Odprta Kuhna has collaborated with 200 restaurants who have served over 1000 different dishes in the past six years. It has been named as one of the top food markets in the world and has hosted over 2 million visitors.