We arrived at Gostilna Ostrouška (pictured, above; all photos by Christopher Wurst), early yesterday where I met Gašper Čarmen (note: "Gostilna" means restaurant). He is the top wine sommelier in all of Slovenia, and he had recently returned from an international competition in Tokyo. He will be traveling with us for the next couple of days. Also there was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Bay Fang,who traveled over from Croatia where she was visiting with the diplomatic team stationed there. She, too, will be joining us for the remainder of our trip.
While there, we sampled several eau de vie made from everything from basil to fennel, all from their own gardens, as well as wines also produced there. They also cure there own salumi and prosciutti. We dined on a frittata-like egg dish stuffed with fresh herbs called fritalja. It is flatter and more pancake-like than the Italian version.
Next, we traveled to Praprot, crossing into Italy to the Zidarich Winery, where we met with Benjamin Zidirich. The winery is perched on a hillside overlooking the Adriatic, and it is spectacular. I am afraid that the pictures do not do this locale justice.
The wine cave is dug down several hundred meters into the rich iron ore laden terra rosa, and it took 10 years to excavate and construct. The work was done by stone masons, and it is supported by large stone arches that house giant wooden fermentation tanks and Slovenian oak barriques, as well an incredible large sink that had been hand carved from solid stone. I have seen many wine cellars and caves over the years, but I have never seen anything that compares to that.
We tasted several of Ben's wines, including a lively Malvasia, made in the traditional fashion using a form of carbonic maceration, and a remarkably full bodied Refusco.
I was then treated to a tour of his curing room where dozens of prosciutti, pancetti and salumi were hanging in various stages of drying, which is done in the traditional way by allowing the northern wind to blow through the room. Suffice it to say, I was green with envy. Later, we enjoyed a lunch comprised of those, with local cheese and some more of Ben's wines.
That evening, we returned to Ljubljana (the capitol of Slovenia) where we attended a reception at the ambassador's residence, where I was challenged in a blind tasting of wines and foods from eastern Slovenia, which is the area of the country that chef Cassie Parsons from North Carolina will be covering. Cassie had just arrived in the country, and I was quick to alert her to get as much rest as possible before her adventure begins in earnest. She will be facing very long days, some as long as my day yesterday, which started at 6:30 a.m. and ended at 10 p.m.
Today we venture back to the wine growing region of Goriška Brda with a trip to another gostilna and a second visit to Movia Winery, where I will be cooking this evening. -- Lenny Russo
At a conference earlier this week in San Francisco, the International Association of Culinary Professionals announced results in its annual awards program.
Winners in the cookbook categories include:
Cookbook of the Year: Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Ebury Publishing (UK)/Ten Speed Press (USA)
First Book (the Julia Child Award): The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deborah Perelman (Random House/Alfred A. Knopf)
General: Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America by Maricel Presilla (W. W. Norton & Co.)
International Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Ebury Publishing (UK)/Ten Speed Press (USA)
American: Hiroko’s American Kitchen: Cooking with Japanese Flavors by Hiroko Shimbo (Andrews McMeel Publishing)
Compilations: La Cucina Italiana Encyclopedia of Italian Cooking by the editors of La Cucina Italiana (Rizzoli)
Single Subject: Roots: The Definitive Compendium with more than 225 Recipes by Diane Morgan (author) and Antonis Achilleos (photographer) (Chronicle Books)
Literary Food Writing: Yes, Chef: A Memoir by Marcus Samuelsson (Random House)
Baking (Savory or Sweet): Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza by Ken Forkish (Ten Speed Press)
Chefs and Restaurants: Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan (Ten Speed Press)
Food Photography and Styling: Bouchon Bakery by Deborah Jones (photograher) and Sebastien Rouxel (author) (Artisan Books, a division of Workman Publishing)
Design: Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian by Sat Bains (Face Publications)
Culinary Travel: Burma: Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid (Artisan Books, a division of Workman Publishing)
Health and Special Diet: The Back in the Swing Cookbook: Recipes for Eating and Living Well Every Day After Breast Cancer by Barbara Unell and Judith Fertig (Andrews McMeel Publishing)
Wine, Beer or Spirits: Canadian Whisky: The Portable Expert by Davin de Kergommeaux (McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House of Canada Ltd.)
Find a full list of winners here.
We were finally able to locate a "black kitchen" that was able to host a meal bringing together many of the folks we had previously visited on our tour of the region encompassed by the Julian Alps. A black kitchen is most akin to a smokehouse for those of us in the U.S.
I prepared a meal of heirloom beans and aromatic vegetables with klobasa and poached duck eggs topped with chives.The attendees were the two little old ladies who taught me how to make krape, and it was their gift of heirloom beans and duck eggs that took center stage. I also used the award-winning klobasa from Arval, and the sausage maker was at the table along with Tomaž Bolka of Gostilna Krištof, where I first tasted that sausage. Also in attendance were our friends the Lecters from the mountain village of Radovjlica, as well as chef Uroš Štefelin of Restavracija 1906.
As the meal was being served, we were paid a surprise viist by a mountain man character from a popular kid's show that dates back to the 1950s who proceeded to stick his fingers in my food, prompting a quick exchange of plates. Gifts were exchanged by all. Tomaž' handcrafted beer was consumed, and apple schnapps was hoisted in a toast.
Earlier in the day, I gave two interviews to Slovenian media. Late that evening, I gave a phone interview to Minnesota Public Radio.
The next day calls for a trip to the mercury mines of Idrija, where I will also take a ride with some professional rally drivers who race souped-up Yugos. That will be followed by a lesson making zlikrofi, which are like tortellini, and a visit to a top Slovene chef in Nebessa. -- Lenny Russo
Editor's note: As Lenny Russo, chef/owner of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market in St. Paul, travels around Slovenia, he is being followed by a film crew for a TV series in Slovenia. You can see more pictures at the Slovenia national TV website. The text is in Slovene but there are more pictures and, of course, links to Table Talk, the Star Tribune Taste blog.
Gostilna Krištof is located in Predoslje, which is a village in the municipalty of Kranj, which lies in the Upper Carniola Region of Slovenia. The gostilna has been the family for hundreds of years although not always in its present location.
Klobasa is the Slovenian version of kielbasa, and it was outstanding (all photos by Christopher Wurst). We also tasted the gostilna's hot sauces which won awards in competition in New York City. One was so hot it made my ears hurt. Everything there is made from scratch, including the breads. In addition, we were treated to what Krištof called Slovenian sashimi, which was sea bass smoked under glass using an ingenious mechanical pump of his own design and served on spoons with Slovenian olive oil, trout roe and tobikko. His menu is definitely worth taking a look at, and I venture to say that it the best restaurant we have experienced so far in Slovenia.
Next, we traveled to Bled where I was rowed to Bled Island by Olympic rowing medalist and six-time competitor Istok Čop. Once there, I climbed the hundred steps to the Church of St. Mary and rang the bell, which tradition says will grant your wish. I wished for spring, and I was sort of temporarily granted that as the temperature in Ljubljana reached 53 degree yesterday with partially clearing skies. It is winter again today with highs reaching only into the low 40s with a cold rain
After that, I drove to Restavracija 1906 where I met with Chef Uroš Štefelin. He prepared for me his take on traditional Slovenian veal liver, which was served in glass and layered with polenta, potato spuma, black truffles and brin cheese crisps. It was delicious. Then he presented the traditional Tepka pear, which a dried heirloom pear that had been reconstituted and dipped in chocolate ganache. We exchanged White Earth Nation wild rice and Tepka Schnapps.
Next we drove high into the lower Julian Alps. I have been driving a brand new little red Fiat 500, which proved remarkably up to the task given condition of the roads once we lost pavement and replaced it with ice, snow and ruts. We stopped in Radovna at Gostilna Psnak where I toured the farm and dined on blood sausage with sauerkraut and quark krape. Krape are made form buckwheat sometimes mixed with ground Tepka pear flour. These were 100 percent buckwheat and stuffed with the farm's own quark.
Everything there is product of the farm, and it is all organically raised. They have an aviary, the doors of which are painted with the family history of the farm, which was purchased by the father of Mr. Psnak, whom we met later. He is now 84 years old and no longer working the farm, but Mr. Psnak has been working it six days a week every week for the last 20 years from 2 a.m. until 8 p.m. The farm has been a working farm for over 400 years. They also have what is called a black kitchen, which is essentially a smokehouse that has been blackened by the smoke and where we saw hams hanging as they were being cured and smoked. Again, we left them with some White Earth wild rice.
More later. -- Lenny Russo
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