Before she decided to take up cooking around 14 years ago, Ana Roš was heading to Brussels to work with the European institutions where she had just been offered a job. As fate had it her partner’s father was retiring from the restaurant he owned, the Hiša Franko and there was no one to take over his work expect Victor who would become her husband.
On the spot and against the will of her father she decided to stay in Slovenia and build her career in the restaurant. Having knowledge of 5 languages, she did not start in the kitchen but soon she realised that this would be necessary.
Yesterday (4th July) she was in Brussels again, this time not because of the offer she had received 14 years ago but rather on the request of Christophe Hardiquest, a chef she really admires after a dining experience she had at the restaurant before this visit.
She was the fourth guest to cook at Bon Bon in the series of Bon Bon Origins dinners that chef Christophe Hardiquest is organising as he continues his research on Belgian traditions and terroir.
Just a few days after making it to the 48th position of the World’s 50 Best restaurants list following last years success as Female chef of the year, Ana was not taking travel commitments having been on the road for the most part of the past months. But when Christophe phoned her, she could not say no. “I’ve eaten at Bon Bon with my husband Victor before and we were impressed by Christophe’s work ethic and the precision. It was easy to convince me,” he told guests at the start of the dinner.
Christophe started the series of dinners in January having invited top Belgian chef Gert de Mangeleer of Hertog Jan. José Avillez and Alexandre Couillon have also cooked in the Brussels kitchen that had welcomed 20 chefs for the GELINAZ headquarters event in November 2016.
The Slovenian chef changed plans at the last minute bringing dishes that she has just created at her restaurant. She told Food and Wine Gazette this is a creative period at the restaurant (read more in an interview with Ana in the coming days). For the dinner, Christophe also invited Damien Brunet, a young talent who recently moved to Brussels restaurant La Buvette.
On a hot and humid Brussels summer evening, Ana Ros told guests that with globalisation and social media, traditions are slowly being lost and it was therefore essential to go back to the roots so that these traditions are not lost. “In a world where everyone has access to You Tube or to Amazon.com it is essential that we focus on local produce,” she said.
One of the biggest challenges that Ana has had to face at her restaurant was to find suppliers who would supply her restaurant since no one wanted to deliver to the restaurant in Kobarid. “We had to approach local farmers who were not convinced that they had the quality we required nor the papers. We has to face people who complained that the lamb tasted differently because it was not the lamb they were used to from Ireland or New Zealand.”
With an emphasis on sourcing locally she presented four dishes that were not only bold but which had a sense of place and sustainability that reflect Ana’s style. She told guests to open their senses and to enjoy the evening and that’s what happened.
Damien started the proceedings with a smoked eel with sweet sour cherry shiso condiment, Breton furikake and puffed rice which was a perfect fresh start to the evening.
Christophe followed with a fresh dish which paired Mackaerel with a Kriek from the Brussels brewery Cantillon in the form of a sorbet. This opened the palate for the next dish, a simple dish with just three ingredients but which was not only bold but also an example of the simplicity and playfulness that is Ana’s kitchen. She combined apricot with a fermented cottage cheese, lily flowers and some chili and paired it with a Vodka and peach drink to cut off the strength of the cheese.
Christophe returned to Belgian traditions with an interpretation of calf’s head or Tete de Veau en tortue which was served in the form of pasta with a very intense broth that was brewed in front of us. He also served a crisp of the head skin with mustard.
What followed was an excellent dish by Ana. She cooked tripe (from an old milk cow) with wild game jus, a tolminc cheese that was refermented in a pit, wild mushrooms and fried nettles. Bold flavours and an intense depth of finish.
To complement this dish, Christophe served North Sea haddock with Scheldt lobster and a white beer and ginger sauce. “Seeing Ana’s dish and also given the weather, I thought that what one would enjoy on a hot day was a ‘white beer’ or ‘biere blanche’ which has notes of ginger and cilantro and I decided to combine them in this dish,” he said. It was a perfect combination of flavours.
Then came my first ever encounter with a bear. Ana said that in Slovenia, they have to hunt between 100 to 200 bears a year because there is an abundance of beers that can cause havoc to nature. In the past, attempts have been made to take the beers to Italy, France and Spain but they were not able to survive.
She braised the bear in a game broth which was then reduced to a sauce and mixed with smoked trout from the region, honey and berries. She added a crisp of trout skin for texture. A very interesting combination of flavours that resembled wild boar.
Ana’s dessert was peach with sweetwoodruff, barley and milk ice-cream and local saffron that had an incredible intensity and long finish that was perfectly refreshing.
To end the meal, Damien presented a smoked white chocolate dessert with beetroot tartare and puffed rice.
The next chefs to cook at Bon Bon will be Emmanuel Renaut of the three Michelin star restaurant Flocons de Sel on 5 September followed by Belgian giant, Peter Goossens of Hof van Cleve who will cook at Bon Bon on 18 September.
On 30th October, the French Arnaud Lallement from L’assiette champenoise, also a three Michelin star restaurant will be the last guest of 2018 for Christophe Hardiquest.