Claire Vallee Ona Michelin Star

France, Land of the Michelin-Starred Restaurants, Now Has Its First Vegan One

Ares-based ONA brings the first vegan Michelin star to France.

France and Michelin stars go together like, well, France and Michelin stars. France is home to more Michelin starred restaurants than any other country in the world, now at nearly 630. French-born chef Alain Ducasse has more Michelin stars than any other chef in the world. He personally holds 20 stars at restaurants in France, Monaco, the UK, Japan, Hong Kong, and Macau.

So it’s no surprise that France has burst another Michelin bubble, earning its first Michelin star for a vegan restaurant, Claire Vallée’s ONA, located in the country’s south-western city, Ares.

ONA stands for Origine Non Animale, which translates to “non-animal origin.” It opened in 2016 in the heart of the Arcachon basin near Bordeaux.

Like many French chefs, vegan or not, Valée says she focuses on seasonal ingredients — produce is always a menu highlight in French cuisine. Her focus on fresh and seasonal ingredients earned her a Michelin Plate and a Fork award in 2018, the first vegan restaurant in France to win such an achievement. The Star, though, hit a little different.

“It felt like I got hit by a train,” Vallée told AFP of receiving the call from Michelin on Monday.

ONA also earned a Michelin green star. It’s a new award the organization rolled out last year for excellence in ethical practices.

ONA Vegan

France’s First Vegan Michelin Star

While vegan food is in high demand across the globe, even during lockdown restrictions, it’s historically been a tough sell in France. The country is known for its French Paradox — a love for rich foods like lamb, butter, and foie gras, as well as wine and tobacco — while diet-related health issues tend to be less common than in the U.S.

But even as demand for vegan food has increased, and fine dining vegan restaurants have cropped up in major cities, Michelin stars for vegan chefs and establishments are rare.

Valée’s win might not have happened at all, had she let banks dictate her future.

She was refused loans when she first decided to open ONA. Some turned her down, saying that veganism was too niche and not likely to last. Her location, in southwest France on the Atlantic coast, was seen as too remote, and not likely to drive enough business. So she did what a number of vegan startups have done to launch — she turned to crowdfunding. She also found support through a bank specializing in ethical projects. “This goes to show that nothing is impossible,” she said.

Vegan Michelin Stars

Michelin has awarded stars to a number of vegetarian restaurants, including King’s Joy, in Beijing, Tian, in Vienna, and NIX, in New York City, the only vegetarian restaurant in the U.S. to have earned a Michelin star.

But mainstream Michelin chefs, including Ducasse, have begun embrancing plant-forward meals in recent years. In 2014 he all but banned meat from his three-star restaurant at the luxury Plaza Athénée hotel, opting to focus on more “natural” cuisine including vegetables and whole grains.

MIchelin chef Jean-Georges also added plant-forward menus in his New York and Beverly Hills locations.

“I feel like the food groups are kind of limited,” he told Michelin in 2019. “When you look at vegetables, herbs and plants, there’s thousands of them,” he said. “It keeps your mind in motion.”

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