Do we have five-star cuisine in Slovenia and which Slovenian restaurants do you reckon belong to this category? What is it that makes five-star cuisine?
We have quite a few excellent restaurants and inns in Slovenia. I will list their names, but the numbers are between 15 and 30. All of them are definitely five-star places–if we use this label. In cuisine and gastronomy, five stars represent the highest quality sum of all the elements that define a certain restaurant, all their employees and their entire offer. Oftentimes, Slovenians wait for someone from abroad to wake up, come to Slovenia and assess our restaurants. I believe as many of us as possible should think of ourselves as though we already have various praise-worthy international awards and titles. Though I also think international institutions that award quality marks should discover on their own that Slovenia is home to exquisite tastes and excellent cooks–it should not always be us begging them, so to say, to come here.
Which five Slovenian dishes do you consider the most traditional? How could we prepare them in a way that would allow us to serve as “fine dining” without a shadow of doubt, and offer them as five-star cuisine?
Whether they are prepared in a traditional or modern way, all 391 typical and representative foods and beverages from the 24 gastronomic regions in Slovenia fall into this category, if they are made with knowledge on their stories and respect for the four seasons.
Do any of these traditional dishes have an intrinsic five-star “ingredient” or does each of them have to be upgraded as a whole if we want it to rank in the five-star category?
This is a typical example of the Slovenian “servant” frustration. We think that something simple and everyday needs to be upgraded in some way for it to be worthy of five stars. For instance, we have govnač and sweet cabbage, and everybody would most likely make a fuss and say we cannot go global with something like that. But years ago, information about this extraordinarily interesting and delicious dish was featured on the cover of an esteemed Dutch food magazine. Or perhaps we should take prekmurska gibanica as an example. In the neighbouring Medžimurje, the dessert is sold as “healthy food” in its original form, while in Slovenia, I have had waiters explaining enthusiastically how highly caloric it is and convincing me to order something else, instead of presenting the story behind it that they were clearly unfamiliar with! We obviously first have to put things in order locally, which is something neither stars nor some other thing will bring – it can only be achieved with systemic long-term education.
What defines tradition in cuisine? Is it the food’s history and culture? And what defines a five-star ranking? In what ways do the two notions intertwine?
Tradition is always a problematic term. This is why today we talk about gastronomic and culinary cultural heritage. Just like clothing, our way of life and other things, cuisine is primarily a cultural category. And five stars are a mark awarded to the most comprehensive and perfect quality–not just in terms of ingredients or taste, but also with regard to everything that co-defines cuisine and gastronomy. In fact, to achieve five stars, education on cuisine and gastronomy, promotion and, last but not least, the behaviouristic norms of all those employed in these two fields have to meet up to the five-star standard as well.
What about the wine accompanying traditional Slovenian cuisine? What are the Slovenian customs like and what do we have to offer to our affluent foreign visitors in this respect?
I believe this is the area that we have done most work on, which undoubtedly proves how important the role of wines (and other alcoholic beverages as well) is in our everyday and holiday contexts. Next to fridge magnets, which are still massively bought by tourists, exquisite Slovenian wines are the number one go-to product for those tourists who are looking to stock up with souvenirs.
Where do you see extra potential for the promotion of traditional Slovenian cuisine as a five-star gourmet experience?
Especially in the offer, which would thus gain in recognition. There is great potential in the field of gastronomic diplomacy. We have some highly promising rudiments of local and regional brands, such as Bohinjsko, Dobrote Dolenjske, Geopark Idrija, Okusi Rogle, Jeruzalem, Srce Slovenije, and Okusi Laškega. But first and foremost, we must start gradually moving away from parroting the global innovations and understanding of cuisine. Slovenia must build its own identity in this respect. It is essential that we invert our projection, so that it projects from us into the world and not the other way around. And one more thing: we must be aware that the questions of cuisine and gastronomy as well as their strategies and developments are primarily professional questions. They are not some fruitless political debate where everyone can have a say.