For a long time, it was looked down upon and derided as rabbit food, odd, or spacey. Now, not only is a vegan diet regarded as healthy, it has turned posh. The vegan diet and restaurants have entered the world of vogue, chic, classy, and high fashion. ONA, a vegan restaurant based in Southwest France, has recently been awarded a Michelin Star. The restaurant has become the first vegan restaurant in the whole of France to achieve this milestone.
Run by chef Claire Vallee, ONA means “origine non-animale”. It translates to the food’s origin being animal-free, indicating the evolving landscape of culinary taste in France. The 5-year-old restaurant is situated near Bordeaux, in the town of Arles.
This news has come as a turning point for a country like France, once dominated by classic dishes such as Coq au Vin or Blanquette de Veau. It has now open-heartedly embraced an animal-free cuisine that has helped the country reach the red bible of gastronomy, the Michelin Guide.
A jubilant Claire thanked all her supporters and the media
The chief of ONA took to her social media account to pen down an emotional message. She thanked her supporters, crowd funders, and all the reviews she received from the media around the world. A self-taught chef, previously non-vegan before her trip to Thailand, Claire was once an archaeologist. She mentioned that her restaurant highlights the fact that one can eat differently.
In her initial years, she often wondered whether her restaurant was good enough, especially since vegan-based cooking is a difficult nut to crack for most. However, she kept instilling faith in herself and promised to enjoy what she was doing.
Michelin Guide: A first award of its kind for France
On Monday, the annual French edition of the Michelin Guide was published. Across the globe, several vegetarian and vegan restaurants have been awarded a Michelin Star. The legendary Michelin Guide further mentioned that the chef’s restaurant had given the vegan cuisine its deserving “nobility” letters.
This category is slowly paving its way toward high-end establishments, venues that were once ruled by meat and fish-based food. However, Gwendal Poullenec, the international head of the Michelin Guides, mentioned that this shift is not entirely new.
For instance, Alain Ducasse, the biggest culinary superstar in France, reduced the amount of meat incorporated in his Parisian restaurant. Mr. Poullenec further added that this experience might liberate several chefs who were hesitant at first to explore this plant-based cuisine.
In an interview with a news agency, Claire explained her initial reactions to winning a Green Star for strong ethical practices. A Green Star signifies honoring those restaurants that are considering a virtuous and sustainable direction to gastronomy.
Claire believed in herself and overcame every obstacle to open her vegan restaurant
She added that it felt like she was hit by a train when she received a call confirming the news. In 2016, Claire started her restaurant with all the money she raised through crowdfunding and loans gathered from the bank, La Nef.
The bank primarily focuses on lending money to those projects that it considers ethical. In her initial days, she found it challenging to secure funding from traditional banks as they related veganism and plant-based restaurants as a risky and uncertain venture. She also added that the location for her restaurant on the Atlantic coast was considered not promising enough.
Seven-dish gourmet vegan
In the restaurant’s seven-dish gourmet menu, you can find combinations of ingredients. It typically stars fir tree, celery, boletus mushroom, and sake, amber ale, and tonk. It also features dulse seaweed, galangal, and lemongrass, which is an intriguing and promising combination for vegan eaters. At present, her restaurant is closed due to the on-going coronavirus pandemic.
If you thought that the dishes served at the restaurant were the only resources based on plant-based origins, then think again. The restaurant has shunned all animal-based products even in terms of its decorations and furnishings. They take pride in not using any products derived from wool or leather.
Although movements such as veganism have grown exponentially in the last few years, they have faced some backlash in France. In the 1990s, the consumption of meals started to decline slightly. However, the country’s prime cultural identity still lies in animal-based dishes. For a long period, vegetables were seen as a side-dish in most restaurants. Hence, making a move like ONA’s was a challenging and brave decision.