I set out on a journey a few years ago. The plan was to eat 20 ingredients in Slovenia, mostly autochthonous, which Janez Bratovž, one of the most famous Slovenian chefs, uses as key building blocks in his renowned JB restaurant.
You may have seen JB around if you haven’t eaten yet his restaurant. He is famous at home and abroad – he cooks for Ferran Adria and the Pope, and his Ljubljana restaurant is among the top ten in Europe. If you shop at Hofer, you may have also seen his face on a number of products made according to his recipes. He was described as the godfather of Slovenian fine dining and was an inspiration for our best chefs, such as Ana Ro with a Michelin star.š and Luka Košir, who was their mentor.
Janez Bratovž and Noah Charney. Photo: Facebook JB Restaurant
When we talked to him about writing a cookbook, I was excited (and hungry) to get started. This is a wonderful, luxurious book that was published in Slovenia in the Zara Kerin edition (recipient of more than 200 international design awards) and with photographs by Mance Jevšček (about food) and Matjaž Tančič (of everything else). JB wrote the recipes and is the protagonist. I wrote essays about JB, our adventures and profiles of each ingredient, and their manufacturer, which we visited during a fun summer. The result is a travel love for Slovenia through its food, which accidentally contains recipes. The original edition received five international awards, including the prestigious Gourmand Award. A new issue entitled Slovenian Cuisine: From the Alps to the Adriatic in 20 Ingredients has now been published by the American publisher Skyhorse. And for only 35 dollars, it is a great holiday gift for everyone who loves Slovenia and food. You can order a copy at Amazon.
This essay is an excerpt from one of 20 chapters.
First, let’s say they’re huge. A monster trout, twice the size of its more common cousins, and with a gorgeous spotted leopard design on its scales. The reason they almost became extinct, as the locals describe it, was a single piece of technology that was improperly used in just two years. From 1915 to 1917, the Isonzo Front, a territory along the Italian-Slovenian border near the Soča River, was the scene of some of the worst fighting in World War I, with an estimated 1,492,209 killed in just two years. . Venue for Ernest Hemingway Goodbye weapons, is also a place of exceptional natural beauty, the river Soča, named after Huffington Post as “the most beautiful river in the world”. During the war, hungry soldiers resorted to all possible measures to gather a meal. Fishing took time and left you open to the enemy. It was much faster and more efficient to “fish” with grenades. Soldiers threw bombs into the Soča River. When they blew it up, they killed everyone under emerald-colored water, and dozens of fish floated to the surface to retrieve and eat them. It was too effective. In this narrow period, this method almost completely eliminated the species of trout that exists only in this one river and its tributaries, in the mountains of Slovenia.
Formerly known as the “marble trout”, it is one of the largest in the trout family with a world record fish that weighed a staggering 55.1 pounds. It is also considered the most subtle and delicious species and in fact among all freshwater fish worldwide.
Related: A short guide to Slovenian fisheries
To save this exceptional species and bring it back from extinction, while still allowing the selection of top chefs to serve it in their restaurants, the team founded the Faronika Fish Farm in Tolmin, not far from the restaurant best known for its service. Marble trout, House Franko, run by the world’s best chef 2017 Ana Roš. Just opened in 2016, Faronika has a capacity to grow 40-45 tonnes of trout a year, most of which are more common varieties (with 35 tonnes of rainbow trout), but still hope to raise around 3-4 tonnes of trout. Marble trout per year – fish often weigh about 20 kilograms.
According to Dušan Jesenšek, a marine biologist specializing in marble trout and director of the Faronik Fish Farm, fish grow especially slowly. “Because of this slow growth, their meat has a special texture and taste that is different from fish that have more intense and faster growth. Meat is more subtle and easier to digest, so it is often served raw, carpaccioto experience the full taste. ” Dušan and his colleagues managed to bring marble trout back from the brink of extinction, as their DNA was similar enough to other sea trout breeds (since marble trout can live in salt or fresh water) that they could be crossed. While marble trout are now in the wild, their populations can vary greatly. In the tributary of the Soča, Dušan said that his team counted 270 fish in one round of monitoring. But just a few weeks later, with reduced rainfall, it dropped to 12.
Tolmin and its surrounding towns, such as Bovec and Kobarid, are not so far from the beaten path on the map, but they are difficult to access from the rest of Slovenia. To date, there are only local, very windy roads, and in Italy it is actually faster to get on the motorway and access these border towns from the Italian side. In Kobarid is the award-winning Museum of the First World War and Narnia the films had scenes shot here, as the terrain looks suitable for some imaginary area, especially for the almost artificially seemingly turquoise Soča. It’s a place that seems remote, but it’s part of its charm. You can’t stumble upon it, but you have to make a pilgrimage. And his pilgrims are rewarded.
Thanks to the efforts of people like Dušan, the marble trout is no longer officially an endangered species, but as he says: “This does not mean that we can relax.” Responsible sport fishermen always catch and release marble trout (according to a selfie), which means that the only such trout you can eat is from the Faronika Fish Farm. At least that’s supposed to happen. There is a danger that you are so wildly tasty.
There is fierce competition for a limited number of bred marble trout. When I visited the farm, I was accompanied by Janez Bratovž, who everyone knows as JB, and Ana Roš named him the godfather of Slovenian fine dining. Before Ana, he was certainly the most famous chef in the region. And yet he was told that at least on the day we left, it was not possible to buy marble trout – stocks had already been reserved for Roš and a handful of other super-local chefs (e.g. a short drive from Tolmin). So rare fish remain, a difficult “catch” even for industry stars and connoisseurs. That’s why it’s all the more important to travel to the source to taste this exceptional fish. Ana Roš likes to serve it as a carpaccio, while Bratovž likes to serve it with artichoke and trout caviar or ceviche. The point is that you have to travel to Slovenia to taste this autochthonous delicacy, be it at the House of Ana Roš Franko or JB Janez Bratovž. When he can get them.
If you want to read more and perhaps order a gift for yourself or your loved ones, you can get the book at Amazon, together with Charney’s always popular and personal view of the pleasures and peculiarities of life in Slovenia – Slovenian studies.