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Acclaimed international chefs, producers and emerging young players have founded a movement that puts Slovenia in an ideal position for culinary fame.
Spain had its moment of glory, then it was Denmark and the Nordic countries, followed by Peru and Japan. The next nation to appear on the world map of fine dining could well be Slovenia, and there's one person in particular who has helped start it all.
The great names
With his JB Restaurant in Ljubljana, Janez Bratovž was the country’s first media chef and the first to appear on The World’s 100 Best Restaurants list. In 2001 he opened the first contemporary restaurant, introducing the haute cuisine wind of change to Slovenia: a cuisine du marché utilising local farmers’ markets with a touch of nostalgia for tradition. He blazed the trail, but is no longer an isolated case.
Ana Roš, recently named World's Best Female Chef 2017, is the new centre forward of Slovenian cuisine: she featured in one of the episodes of Chef’s Table produced by Netflix, she belongs to the Gelinaz collective culinary entity, was proclaimed Talent of the Year 2015 by the Jeunes Restaurateurs d'Europe and was the only woman among the chefs of Cook it Raw. As well as being well known abroad and having made her Hiša Franko restaurant in Kobarid the most interesting gourmet venue of Slovenia, she is also an excellent trainer.
A plethora of young chefs
The team of young chefs who are betting everything on their homeland is growing rapidly in number and, now that the brain drain is a thing of the past, many are now returning home. Informed by a wealth of international experience, new Slovenian cuisine is following an original trajectory.
The close bond with the local territory, producers and wild produce translates into unique, intense flavours and a fascinating story. Chef Uroš Štefelin at Vila Podvin restaurant, Radovljica starts out from local traditions and evokes them throughout, taking fruit and vegetables to long forgotten paradisiacal heights. He grows autochthonous varieties, cases sausages and ripens cheese, hosts a market of local producers and teaches Slovenian culinary heritage in his cookery classes, promoting it as a feature of modern cuisine.
In his new Monstera Bistro in Ljubljana, Bine Volčič combines his French culinary training in the kitchens of L'Arpege, Apicius and L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon with the flavours of his travels in Asia, the no waste concept and Slovenian ingredients. His bistro is young and informal, open from early morning for breakfast through to dinner.
Despite being so young, Luka Košir has taken over the kitchen management of the family restaurant, the Brunarica Grič, set amidst woodlands and fields, in the natural environment of Šentjošt Nad Horjulom. He has not betrayed the bond with the land: on the contrary, he works with the products of his father’s farm and the fruit that grows wild in the woods, presenting them in the sort of dishes you would expect to find in large cities.
Products, climate and excellent wine
As well as quality ingredients, excellent producers and marvellous landscapes ranging from coastal areas to high mountain ranges, the prices are lower than in countries such as Germany and France, or even Italy and Spain, which means that the consumer market is potentially wider, certainly when compared to Scandinavian countries.
Much can also be said about the country’s wine, which has a character of its own and, in the wake of the international trend for natural wines, an increasing number of wine enthusiasts are being drawn to this part of the world. Names such as Cotar, Movia and Simicic have set the wheels in motion, but there are countless other new labels to taste and cellars to visit, such as that of the natural wine producer Burjia, or at the table of Majerija in Slap, where it is possible to enjoy fine traditional cuisine after literally reserving a place in the vegetable garden surrounded by the vineyards of the Vipava Valley.
From new Nordic cuisine to here
There is plenty of evidence, none of it circumstantial, that Slovenia will be the new gourmet destination. On top of which, there is a personal confession, by someone who is far from being a local citizen. We refer to Swedish-born Peter Bloombergson, who moved here from the north to breed ducks.
No ordinary ducks, of course, since he is accustomed to radical methods, having supplied Faviken for years. But he left and now works with young Luka Košir : “Today’s Scandinavian cuisine is nothing, but business and communication; it’s over. The new homeland of cuisine is here.” And if he says so, there must be something in it.