Vegan restaurant becomes first to be handed Michelin star in France

Rebecca Speare-Cole
·3 min read
ONA becomes the first vegan restaurant in France to be awarded a Michelin star.
ONA becomes the first vegan restaurant in France to be awarded a Michelin star. (Google Maps)

A vegan restaurant has become the first to be awarded a Michelin star in France.

ONA, which stands for "Origine Non-Animale" ("Animal-free origin") is run by chef Claire Vallée in the northwestern town of Arès.

The restaurant was also awarded a green star, which recognises strong ethical practices.

Vallée told AFP that: "It felt like I got hit by a train," when the Michelin guide called her last week to tell her she had won the accolade.

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The 41-year-old reportedly opened her restaurant in 2016 with the help of crowdfunding and loans for a bank which specialises in ethical funding.

She said that she initially struggled to obtain funding through traditional banks.

"They said the outlook for veganism and plant-based food was too uncertain," she said, adding that its location was also not considered promising enough.

The chef also told the news agency that she wondered “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.”

It comes as ONA has been forced to close temporarily due to COVID-19 restrictions in France.

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But before it shut, the restaurant reportedly offered seven dishes on its gourmet menu with ingredients like pine, boletus mushroom, sake, celery, tonka and amber ale.

The 41-year-old thanked her supporters and crowdfunders in an Instagram post, saying: “It is because you believed in me, in this crazy risk, despite my doubts, my anxieties, my fears but also it is because we worked together throughout these last four years, that today we obtained our first STAR in the MICHELIN GUIDE.”

Michelin has previously awarded stars to vegetarian and vegan restaurants in other countries, saying that plant-based dishes are increasingly taking centre stage on fine-dining tables.

This year, the guide faced the challenge of awarding accolades to restaurants as coronavirus wreaked havoc on the global hospitality industry.

In most countries, including France, there has only been a few weeks when restaurants were open in between COVID-19 lockdowns.

Whenever lockdown restrictions eased, the inspectors cancelled their vacations so they could squeeze in as many visits as possible before the restaurants were forced to close again, said Gwendal Poullennec, the guide's international director told Reuters.

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"They were able - while sticking to our time-honoured methodology and making as many visits as usual - to establish a selection of restaurants as credible and trustworthy as in previous years," Poullennec said.

In this year's guide, one new restaurant was elevated to the most coveted ranking of three Michelin stars.

The AM par Alexandre Mazzia in the southern city of Marseille joined the other 29 restaurants in France that already hold the distinction.

Two restaurants were given two stars for the first time, and 54 establishments received one star for the first time.

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