Vegan restaurant ONA in France won a Michelin Guide star on Monday. This is the first time a vegan restaurant wins a Michelin star.
Claire Vallee runs ONA, which stands for Origine Non Animale, in the city of Ares, near Bordeaux. She launched ONA in 2016 thanks to crowdfunding and a loan from a green bank.
“It felt like I got hit by a train,” Vallee told AFP about the moment she received the call that her restaurant had been awarded a Michelin star.
In addition to the classic star, Vallee also won a green star, which Michelin introduced only last year to reward restaurants with a strong record for ethical practices.
ONA is “the first vegan restaurant in France to win a star”, a Michelin spokeswoman told AFP.
Vallee offered seven dishes on her gourmet menu before she had to close ONA because of COVID-19 restrictions. Her favorite combinations involve pine, boletus mushroom and sake, or celery, tonka and amber ale.
Traditional French banks gave the young chef no attention when she came to them looking for a loan to get started.
“They said the outlook for veganism and plant-based food was too uncertain,” she told AFP. Confident “that I had a few things going for me”, Vallee went on to secure financing through crowdfunding and through the bank La Nef, a bank that specializes in loans for projects it considers to be ethical.
“This goes to show that nothing is impossible,” she said.
Vallee admits to having wondered along the way “whether we were good enough because vegetable-based cooking is difficult and innovative”. But, she added: “The most important thing is to enjoy doing this.”
Although now considered a pioneer for vegan cuisine in France, Vallee said she simply followed in the footsteps of others, singling out the late Jean-Christian Jury, who ran the Mano Verde restaurant in Berlin.