“This is my character. I am very explosive. I cannot say that 100 per cent of my dishes are like this but 70 per cent of our dishes are very intense. They call me thunderstorm and I can be very emotional but this is how my kitchen is,” she told Food and Wine Gazette after the fourth Bon Bon dinner at the Brussels restaurants.
“I don’t think the cooking is extreme because it is not extreme but it is strong. There is of course a risk that people don’t like it. For me, I prefer that 80 per cent love it and 20 per cent say never gain rather than staying in the middle.”
That is understandable given that she has made it to the top of the game having been awarded best female chef last year and also featuring in Netflix’s popular food series Chef’s Table. Last month, for the first ever time, she made it to the top 50 of the World’s 50 Best restaurants list in 48th place.
“When I got the letter that we would be in the top 50, I didn’t make much of it. If it had happened three to four years ago I would have been super enthusiastic. But the past two years have been very difficult for me. There was Netflix with Chef’s Table, then female chef of the year last year and also 69th place in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List. How could I dream for more,” she said.
“This year’s result means more responsibility but I am particularly happy for my team because this means a lot for them. We come from a part of the world, central and Eastern Europe where you have very few cases of fine dining. We have to teach people to appreciate fine dining. Our voting area includes Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg and a part of Germany and there are only three restaurants of the list, the restaurant of Heinz Reitbauer, Andreas Caminada in Switzerland and us.
The fact that Hisa Franko is now in the top 50 positions has made a lot of echo in Slovenia, a country without Michelin, without Gault Millau or other food guides. “There is no measure which means that we need to perform. After the event in Bilbao, I returned to the restaurant and we had a briefing with the staff. They asked whether we had partied and I am rational and did not really party. I told the team that this brings a responsibility that is new for us. We have to be better tomorrow. Visibility is of course important as it helps the restaurant particularly since we are not in a city but a village. I am rational, I take it in my stride, it is my job, it is proof that I did it well,” she said.
We return back to her experience cooking with Christophe Hardiquest at Bon Bon. This is not her first time in Brussels. She’s been here to cook for the Slovenian government and for the Slovenian tourism board before and has also eaten before at Bon Bon. “I was amazed the first time I was here by how hard working and humble Christophe is. I was not mistaken given I’ve spent three days here.
During her stay in Brussels, Ana Ros went to Les Brigittines and Le Pigeon Noir. “I think it is essential to start with tradition. When I want to discover new places, I rarely eat fine dining because I don’t have enough time. I prefer to go step by step, to know the culture, to get to what is basic.”
“Sometimes you need to look not at the basics but at the origins. Then you move towards fine dining. When I had dinner at Bon Bon the day before the four hands dinner and he presented me his Belgian dishes they were incredible. But you need to taste something traditional to realise how incredible it is. Otherwise it gets lost in translation. When you understand the traditions and see how a dish has progressed you can really understand what is happening,” she said.
Ana Ros has taken a step back from four hands dinner to focus on her restaurant in the past few months. “These experiences are not about networking because we are already friends from before neither is it for the money but rather it is to open your eyes and learn something,” she said. “These events help both parties to get something positive out of it. I think that knowing the culture, the stories you discover and how you can connect to a territory is unique. Observing Christophe working, I can notice things that are missing in my kitchen and that is something I can work on to make my place better. These opportunities offer you the door to improve things because you can never be perfect,” she said.
Ana’s cuisine sends a strong message She has no qualms serving tripe in a fine dining setting. Why, I ask.
“Massimo Bottura tried this tripe dish when we cooked together after the San Pellegrino Young Chefs awards. He tried it and was amazed. I saw him and he comes to me and says shit Ana, that’s such an umami taste. I didn’t want to trigger that reaction but that was amazing. Every ingredient can be a challenge for a chef. The less valuable it is, the bigger challenge it is. But also the bigger result you can get out of it. The most loved dishes on our menu are the ones from ‘la cucina povera’ or the poor kitchen. Even the apricot dish has just apricot and cottage cheese with a bit of red pepper. It is a dish that costs nothing. It is how you work with your hands and the technique you use,” Ana said.
Ana believes that it is essential to focus on quality. “Both my children are athletes (athletics). I had a big responsibility about what my children eat compared to other mothers. When they were young children they were eating beef tongue, tripe. We were at a traditional place in Friuli and my son had a bowl of tripe. When he finished he asked if he could have more of this. Ultimately what is important is to send a message. To check where things are coming from because non of us is rich enough. Sometimes it is more important and better to have access to a high quality animal than a chicken fillet that comes from an industrial farm where the chickens cannot live well.”
Ana knows these are issues that can be controversial but she reflects on this. “It is the same with vegetables. It is essential to know where and how they are grown. Earlier this year I had a strong discussion with some rich vegan Slovenians who told me we should all be vegans because farming is destroying the planet. But then, they served the meal and it was January and we ate Chinese mushrooms and red pepper corns. At the end, I said that even Chinese mushrooms and red pepper corns create emissions because they have been flown in. So are you being more environment conscious than me who has eaten meat from a cow that has been farmed in a traditional manner? I don’t have the answer. But was is important is that we should go back to the origins of food and understand where it is coming from.”
Those are important words to ponder on.