In recent years, Slovenia has emerged as one of Europe’s newest and hottest gastronomy destinations. At the European Food Summit - which took place in Ljubljana from 6-8 November - chefs, producers and journalists had the chance to see what’s happening inside the burgeoning food destination, against the backdrop of discussion about the wider issues facing the world of food.
The gathering allowed those present to meet some of the movers and shakers in gastronomy - from producers and scientists, to chefs and entrepreneurs - with some big names beaming in for a sprinkling of stardust.
Opening with curator Andrea Petrini, as well as Ana Roš and organiser Martin Jezeršek, the stage was set for a symposium that had twice been cancelled due to Covid-related issues and had been uncertain as recently as 24-hours previously, when the Slovenian government imposed new restrictions to curb a surge in infections. However, all the hard work paid off as the curtain lifted on the event.
Beti Vidmar of the Biotechnical Faculty, Slovenia, entertained us with a brilliant talk - Feed the Microbes to Feed Your Cow - which examined the important role that microbes play in a cow’s digestive system, and how working with them we can improve your yields, reduce greenhouse gas emission and create better, healthier and happier farms.
Swiss chef Rebecca Clopath shared her practices at her farm and restaurant in the remote Alpine village of Lohn. Known as the ‘Natural Chef’ in her home country, Clopath is a breath of fresh air in how she approaches her kitchen, cooking only outdoors and always with locally-sourced, organic produce. Clopath represents a new generation of chef that is completely dedicated to a more natural and sustainable future, achieving it today with love and big smile.
The CEO of Slovenian grocery chain Tuš, Andraž Tuš, spoke about the company's partnership with Ana Roš and how they teamed up to create a line of high-quality gastronomic products for their supermarket shelves. Allowing producers to use their excess produce during the pandemic, saving many of them from financial ruin, the partnership allowed Ana Roš to reach a broader demographic and allowed Tuš to introduce healthier, more sustainable products into its offering.
Jeanne Dumas Chalifour & Matteo Monterumisi
The brilliant Jeanne Dumas Chalifour & Matteo Monterumisi, the French-Canadian-Italian couple whose children have been the real stars of the event, shared their fascinating story of how they came to leave London and found themselves in Slovenia, farming vegetables bio-dynamically at 900 metres on the side of a mountain. Their passion and extensive knowledge translate into the highest quality ingredients that end up on the plate at Hiša Franko.
Art theorist and curator Nicolas Bourriaud something different with his presentation: The Contemporary Palate. Aesthetic Patterns in Today’s Cuisine. The renowned French author painted a picture of a ‘singularity' of aesthetics between the worlds of art and food.
Chefs René Redzepi and Angél León streamed in with their thoughts on the future of their own work. They were followed by renowned author and journalist John Lanchester who asked: ‘OK, Now What? Escoffier at 150’.
The European Food Summit closed with an Experience Dinner at Ljubljana’s new art venue Cukrarna. The dinner featured seven courses from the chefs at all seven of Slovenia’s Michelin-starred restaurants - Hiša Franko, Gostilna Pri Lojzetu, Gostišče Grič, Dam, HišaDenk, Restavracija Atelje and Vila Podvin. The music was chosen as an accompaniment for each dish by each chef.
When I first visited Slovenia some 25 years ago, it was not long after the separation from Yugoslavia, and the country felt very young and open. There was a whole world of possibilities and the new republic was coming out, blinking, into the light of western capitalism, towards the EU and a new world of development and growth.
Yet for all the country's warm and friendly people, its rich history and spectacular scenery, the touristic experience distinctly lacked a gastronomic element. The quality of food was excellent, but the offering just wasn’t considered.
Fast forward to today, and the Slovenian tourist board leads with gastronomy as its main attraction. That’s a stunning turn-around, to develop a food and restaurant scene sophisticated and interesting enough to be proud of. It doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen by accident, but rather as the consequence of all stakeholders working in unison, from the ground up - from the producers working with nature, the government paying up to attract the Michelin Guide, and the chefs toiling in the kitchens.
After Slovenia separated from Yugoslavia and embraced a capitalistic way of life, it seemed as if the lack of development of its food system left it someway behind its Western European neighbours. However, thirty years later, we can see that the traditional farming techniques of the small landholding farmer meant that Slovenians maintained a connection to the land. Today, organic farming is widespread in the country, the lack of development has become its greatest strength. Slovenia was trying to catch up to the west, but now the west is trying to catch up with Slovenia. The wheel has turned.
Kobarid, the area that is hoe to Hiša Franko
Of course, central to the whole movement is the incomparable Ana Roš, an artist and force of nature, but there is a lot more to Slovenia than the world-renowned two Michelin star Hiša Franko. And it was on Roš' international reputation that the European Food Summit was leveraged.
Slovenian gastronomy sparkles with new confidence, but if you visit Ljubljana, don’t miss the Saturday market. It’s there you can see the real heart of the food system. Stalls manned by three generations of the same family sell their seasonal vegetables in a heartening display that is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the stomach. This is the foundation upon which all the rest is built, the fulcrum on which the wheel of chefs and restaurants and the Michelin Guide all turn.
The Planšarsko jezero Lake and the Ljubljana Market