The sporting success (and failure) that drove Ana Roš
Discover how this dancer and competitive skier finished up in first place in the culinary world
Ana Roš may have been named The World's Best Female Chef by The World's 50 Best Restaurants in 2017, but there was a time when she believed that her other talents might bring her global attention.
The self-taught chef, who oversees the kitchen at Hiša Franko in western Slovenia – currently no 38 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List – took little interest in food as a child and young woman; she really saw eating as a means to an end for her other passions, which were largely sporting.
Her dad was sporty; her maternal grandfather was an athlete, and a member of the Yugoslavian Olympic fencing team, and, growing up in the Slovenian Alps, Ana herself soon took to the slopes, to excel as a skier.
She was scouted by a local skiing club, and looked set for success. But winter sports weren’t her only passion. Despite having impaired hearing she worked hard to become an accomplished dancer. How did she do it? “Simply by following my intuition, and not my ears,” writes Roš in her new book Ana Roš: Sun and Rain.
“My life seemed to move quickly,” she recalls. “Soon I was selected for the Yugoslav national ski team, but I refused to quit dancing. Between the ski slopes and dancing stages and studying hard at high school, before I knew it I had turned 17, and I was beginning to grow into a rebel, somewhat of a wild child. I never spent my time at home; I never cooked with my mother or with my grandmother. I simply considered food as a fuel for my extremely active body.”
Roš’s sporting ambition reached an impasse around the same time when her father introduced her to his passion: blood sports. “One beautiful autumn morning, my father took me hunting,” she writes. “We woke up far before dawn, and I remember him taking two big guns from the wardrobe in my parents’ bedroom, which has only just struck me as a funny place to keep hunting weapons."
I was given my own binoculars to help him trace his target. We were walking fast and long and I was not allowed to say a word. How did he know where to find the animal? We lay down, hiding in high grass, and in my head I started counting down minutes: ‘Pssst! Did you see it?’ ‘No, Father. . .’ Baaam! All I could smell was the persistent and intense aroma of gunpowder. ‘Let’s go. Let’s find it.’
"We left the forest with a small roebuck hanging over my father’s back. I never wanted to go hunting again. I stopped cutting my hair, and a few months later I quit skiing, too. My father is an intelligent man. He never said a thing."
Butt the sporting traumas didn’t end there. “The pressure of dance aesthetics made me hate my athletic body,” Roš says. “My English teacher was the first to notice that I was losing weight too quickly. In those days, anorexia was more of a taboo; no one knew how to talk about it, let alone treat it. Six months after quitting skiing, I was admitted to the central Slovenian hospital having lost 30 kilograms (66 pounds) and shattered a dream. I knew I could never dance again.”
Instead Roš devoted her herself to her studies, nearly landed a junior diplomat’s role, before taking a chance on her boyfriend’s family restaurant, where she eventually found fame.
That might sound like a lot of ups and downs, but her mother doesn’t really see it that way. Katja Roš sees her daughter’s development as a natural part of their country’s growth, which was changing quite rapidly too.
“Capitalism was already peeking through the curtain of Socialism,” Katja Roš writes in the new book. “Times called for adaptation as we went along, and with adaptation comes creativity. Maybe that’s why Ana is like a burst of gunfire. She wanted to become a star skier, then she wanted to become a prima ballerina, followed by a diplomat, a president, an ambassador, even a queen.”
In the end she settled for chef, albeit one of the world’s very best. For Roš, second place was never an option. To find out more about her life and recreate her dishes, order a copy of Ana Roš: Sun and Rain here.