How Slovenian chef Ana Roš and her team are learning to overcome the coronavirus crisis

Laura Price - 26/03/2020

When Slovenia’s government suddenly closed its borders to prevent the spread of Covid-19, Hiša Franko’s international team was forced into collective lockdown. But chef Ana Roš and her staff are finding ways to support each other emotionally while feeding the local community and propping up the food chain

In her new book of recipes and memories, Sun and Rain, Ana Roš recounts a series of adverse life events she experienced on her path to success: losing a baby, suffering from anorexia and overcoming family pressure to choose a different career. Throughout her most difficult periods, she always believed she ‘would make it’ and that better times were just around the corner. Today, she applies the same stoicism to the current coronavirus crisis.

“Failure is the engine of success. We have every right to be scared and to panic, but we should also be positive and creative. I believe that after every rain, the sun comes out,” she says.

Hiša Franko's stunning Soča Valley setting

Find positives

For Roš, the temporary closure of her restaurant brought the opportunity to action a dream that had been in the works for five years. While the original idea was to create a series of products using Soča Valley ingredients and Hiša Franko techniques to be sold to customers around the world, the concept has now been modified and fast-tracked into food packages available to anyone in Slovenia, and soon the rest of Europe, for $126 (€115).

For the last two weeks, team members have been foraging daily and creating products such as fermented cottage cheese pesto, yoghurt and ramson crackers and mountain milk and wild watercress dips. Each package includes a loaf of sourdough bread from head baker Nataša Djuric, and the boxes are sent by a friend and established distributor of organic produce.

“It’s been my dream for five years, especially since we opened our amazing bakery a year and a half ago,” Roš says. “The idea was always to combine these beautiful, quality mountain ingredients with our technical approach and make them available to every person around the world. Now we have nothing else to do so we can realise this dream.”

Hiša Franko has also sent complimentary packages to everyone whose reservation at the restaurant had to be cancelled because of coronavirus.

Bread from the restaurant's bakery, now available mail-order

Support the food chain

While Roš and her team create new products, they are also helping to tackle the knock-on effect of the virus on the local farming community. Many Slovenians are stockpiling long-life milk instead of buying it fresh, which has led to problems for farmers whose cows are still producing. To help support the industry, Hiša Franko has teamed up with Anka Lipušček Miklavič’s local dairy business, Planika, to create new ice creams and other products using mountain milk.

“It’s a very vulnerable economic environment and if something goes wrong in one part of the chain, everything breaks down,” Roš says. “We’re really trying to create products that can be stored. What we’re doing now is just the start – it can have a really beautiful future.”

Be prepared to be vulnerable
Slovenia’s government has pledged to waive taxes and pay 80% of employees’ salaries, so Hiša Franko’s staff are not just well-occupied but also financially supported. To add further comfort, there are very few Covid-19 cases in the small European nation. But, like restaurant staff all over the world, they are still suffering from uncertainty at a time when they are far away from their families. With 30 staff from Argentina to Italy now in lockdown at Hiša Franko with Roš – who also lives in the building with her own blood relations – the chef has found herself stepping up her usual role as motivator-in-chief, but also allowing herself to drop her defences.

“I’m going above what a lot of people think is healthy for a boss or chef to be saying to people,” she explains. “I couldn’t help but break down in front of the team when I found out my friend Nino was the first to die from coronavirus in Croatia. To see me being vulnerable and afraid is important. You need to be an example for them, but you also need to be human.”

Look for a brighter future
Roš has allotted time for the team to talk daily about their concerns and fears, as well as giving them the opportunity to put forward ideas for what they would like to work on. The dining room wall is now covered in papers full of handwritten ideas from both the kitchen and front-of-house staff, and the chef hopes her team will use this time to their advantage.

“This is what I repeat to everyone: use this moment to study what you are interested in and deepen your knowledge. You have time now,” she says. She also believes the ideas that emerge from the crisis will lead to greater opportunities in future. “We will somehow come out of this coronavirus very different, and maybe even better human beings.”

50/50 is the new 50’ is a content series created by 50 Best and supported by S.Pellegrino with the shared aim of promoting equality, inclusivity and balance in the hospitality sector and beyond.

Sun and Rain with text and recipes by Ana Roš with Kaja Sajovic is published by Phaidon. Photography by Suzan Gabrijan.

For more information on what organisations are doing to combat coronavirus, see our article on Coronavirus Resources for the Hospitality Community, and our round-up of Restaurant Initiatives.