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June 22, 2017

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Chef serves up a taste of Melania's homeland

NEW YORK -- A master chef is bringing attention to the cuisine of Melania Trump's homeland.

Ana Ros , who starred last year in an episode of the "Chef's Table" Netflix series, runs what some consider Slovenia's best restaurant in a remote village inn.

Slovenian tourism officials recently brought Ros to New York to showcase her culinary talents at a time when tourism in the tiny country is booming, up to nearly 3 million tourists a year in a country of 2 million people.

Ros heads the kitchen in an inn called Hisa Franko (Frank's house). Her ever-changing menu there reads like no other, to name just a few dishes: fried white asparagus with celery cream; arctic char with wild berries and buttermilk; pasta filled with whipped cheese from sheep in nearby pastures, served with langoustines and mushrooms; and pork and lobster with ginger and pickled garlic on a bed of ancient Indian herbal leaves.

Ros' husband, cheese and wine expert Valter Kramar, inherited Hisa Franko and a small farm from his father. The inn is located in the remote village of Kobarid, in the western part of the country, surrounded by pine forests in the emerald Soca River Valley. It was here that Ernest Hemingway set part of his World War I novel, "A Farewell to Arms."

"We can see Italy and the boats in the Adriatic Sea," said Ros, looking exuberant as she described the sight. The Italian border is just a mile away.

Ros' cooking skills are largely self-taught, though she was mentored by culinary luminaries to become a master chef of a surprising cuisine. "I found my own way of creating that's in some way freer," she says, adding that the only thing she'd hate to hear from guests "would be that the dinner was boring."

Ros, 44, and Kramar, 49, have traveled the world, blending global tastes and techniques with ingredients from local fields and barns, and their own vegetable and herb garden. In some ways, Ros' menus reflect the cross-currents that define Slovenia, nestled as it is between Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia.

"Slovenia is a perfect mix of landscape and culture — the sea, the Alps and the rolling hills and plains, close to each other, with Mediterranean, Central European and Balkan influences," says Andrej Smrekar, an art curator at Ljubljana's National Gallery of Slovenia who helped turn a medieval monastery church in the countryside into a modern art gallery. "Tourists have a taste for what's authentic, but to them unknown and untouched."

When Melania Trump was a student in Ljubljana in the 1980s, the city was rocked by punk rebels and activists impatient to shake off the vestiges of drab socialist bureaucracy. Slovenia was mostly spared in the brutal civil war that followed independence from Yugoslavia of other republics farther south including Bosnia.

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