What makes Slovenia's thriving food scene unique is their local appetite and unconditional love for the country's produce. The country's wide range of agricultural products reflects its valuable traditional knowledge and unique climatic diversity. From the Mediterranean to the Alps, across the Pannonia Plain, Slovenia has all the ingredients for a delicious cuisine.
A new generation of chefs is taking this trend to the next level by focusing on cooking local ingredients sourced from their business. In addition to plant and animal products from local farms, this group likes to add wild elements from the countryside, forests or rivers. For example, they add many herbs, plants and mushrooms to their dishes, as well as game (feathered and quadruped) - hunted sustainably - or locally caught fish. Eventually, these chefs turned to producing fruit and vegetables, honey, cheese and butter, and sometimes meat.
Pavus: Born Wild
“For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a chef. My own dream is to open my own restaurant,” enthuses Marko Pavčnik, chef and owner of Pavus. The restaurant is located on a hill overlooking the town of Laško, famous for its beer and thermal baths - the restaurant is located in the reconstructed Laško Tabor castle, which has existed since the 11th century. Once the hunting lodge and later defensive post of Count Celie, it has been home to the chef and his team since 2011. In this fairytale setting, Marko Pavčnik presents his vision of today's Slovenian cuisine, food that blends perfectly with its surroundings. His dishes are creative and original, but he doesn't disdain the country's culinary traditions, offering his own personal reinterpretations while emphasizing local ingredients.
Pavčnik's impeccable mastery of fine dining techniques allows him to create dishes of unrivaled beauty, but what really sets him apart is his passion for working with wild ingredients. "Almost every day, my day starts with a walk in nature and the forest around the restaurant. I pick herbs, plants, berries, mushrooms...". His cuisine goes hand in hand with nature, changing with the seasons and the weather. His botanical knowledge is attributed to Dario Cortese, author of a reference book on edible plants in the Slovenian nature. Inspired by his book, Pavčnik collaborated with the late botanist. "Dario Cortese knew all the plants, but he didn't know how to cook them," recalls the chef.
Today, Pavčnik specializes in preparing and cooking these wild ingredients, and even offers courses on the subject. All dishes on his menu include them. "The plants I collect in the forest or elsewhere always have an experimental phase. My team and I try different preparation techniques and then combine them with other flavors. "
In this sense, his famous herbal soup is symbolic. "It's hard for me to remove this dish from the menu because I might annoy regulars and visitors," he said. Depending on the season, the soup contains 15 to 20 different herbs, most of which are picked by the chef. The flavors of this rich, luxurious signature dish will linger in your mouth long after you put your spoon down.
Beer is a specialty of the town of Rashko and also appears in some dishes on the menu, such as local trout with beer and marmalade. Pavčnik adapted this Japanese recipe almost entirely from local products...it shows that he hasn't forgotten his roots.
Galerija okusov : Bringing (reviving) local products to life
Between Ljubljana and Maribor, the pleasant Lower Savinha Valley is covered with hop fields and big apple orchards.. To find the Galerija okusov restaurant, enter the baroque Neue Celje Park and stroll through the 1760 mansion inspired by Vienna's Schönbrunn Palace. Housed in an outbuilding surrounded by century-old trees, this modernly decorated restaurant is a must for food lovers visiting the area.
Likewise, food is inspired by nature and the best products it produces. Chef Marko Magajne, 30, has been involved in the project since the beginning. His goal is to reinvent Slovenian cuisine without neglecting family recipes that always inspire nostalgia. His approach is fine dining: "I never use more than three ingredients in a dish. It's about harmony and respect for the product."
For restaurateur Gašper Puhan, the name of the game is a tribute to the treasures of the local land and to the people behind its production. “We only work with producers we know personally, most of whom are in our neighborhood. For example, trout and sturgeon farmers who supply the highest quality fish, or neighbor gardeners who supply seasonal produce every morning, whether it’s Asparagus or strawberries, we really feel like part of a family," the chef said with a smile.
This gives the menu an authentic identity, reflecting both local produce and the surrounding nature. "Every season we try to use wild products from the region, such as flowers, mushrooms and game," says Gašper Puhan. House honey is collected from the flowers of the Acacia tree planted on the premises.
This awareness of the benefits of nature and local traditions does not hinder creativity and modernity. The modern interior of the restaurant designed by Gašper Puhan proves this. He chose to use local materials and collaborate with local artisans and designers. Galerija okusov is committed to recycling its waste and achieving sustainable development more generally.
With the same motivation to promote local products, nearly 600 wine lists are dedicated to wines from the region. Gašper Puhan, who also designed the spectacular wine cellar as the restaurant's front room, describes his goal: "to offer authentic, always honest, never wrong wines". Somehow this also captures the spirit of the restaurant.
Hero image: Pavus dish smoked trout with beer sauce / Rok Dezelak