For the first time in history, a restaurant that does not use any animal products on its menu has won a Michelin star. And yep, you guessed it — the head chef and founder is a woman.
Owner and chef Claire Vallée launched her restaurant four years ago. ONA – which stands for Origine Non Animale — ‘animal free origins’, initially struggled to find enough funding as lenders claimed that a plant-based restaurant would be too risky.
Vallée, 41, was awarded the coveted prize during an online ceremony held earlier this week when Michelin Guide France announced its latest set of stars. A total of 54 restaurants world-wide have earned their first star in the 2021 updated guide.
“It felt like I got hit by a train,” Vallée told AFP. Later, when she was interviewed on France 3, the former pastry chef said it was “one of the best moments” of her life and she was proud of her team at ONA.
“The team that I work with are really proud,” she told CNN. “The Michelin star and the green star serve as recognition. It’s also for them and the local producers and the vegetable farmers we work with.”
The restaurant, which is also managed by a woman (Clarisse Jacq) is located in Arès, a seaside resort town in southwest France, fifty kilometres west of the famed wine-growing region of Bordeaux.
STRUGGLE TO BEGIN RESTAURANT
Vallée launched ONA in 2016 after a series of crowdfunding efforts from supporters (which amassed €10,000 – $AUD 15,762.65) and a loan from La Nef, green bank that lends exclusively to ethical projects.
Vallée said traditional banks had told her that “the outlook for veganism and plant-based food was too uncertain,” and that her chosen location for the restaurant was also not considered promising enough.
“This goes to show that nothing is impossible,” Vallée told AFP. She said she did have doubts regarding “whether we were good enough because vegetable-based cooking is difficult and innovative,” though she insists that “the most important thing is to enjoy doing this.”
GREEN FINE DINING
On the same night as her restaurant was awarded the classic star, ONA was also crowned with a green star, which the Michelin guide introduced last year to award restaurants with outstanding ethical practices.
Writing on her restaurant’s offical website, Vallée says of her vegansim, “It was like a brutal awakening. A whole new cuisine I wasn’t aware of offered itself to me. An ethical cuisine, respectful of life and of the planet.”
“The ONA (Non-animal Origin) project started because of how fed up we were of seeing junk food, industrial food (animal and vegetable) everywhere and of our will to refuse animal exploitation in all its forms,” she writes. “More than a gourmet restaurant, ONA aims to be a place of life where respect for people, nature and animals is at the centre of all concerns.”
“I chose to create a cuisine which reflects my character and values, avant-garde in a multitude of aspects. I believe in plants! For me, it is undoubtedly the cuisine of the future because it meets all our needs effectively: ecology, biology, ethics, human and health.”
In an interview with CNN Vallée said “Cooking with my team is like performing in a theatre. You never really know how it’s being received until the very end.”
“This is a good thing for the vegan community as this star is evidence that French gastronomy is becoming more inclusive. That plant based dishes belong there too,” Vallee said.
The Michelin guides, which were created in 1900, has coped some criticism this year for running its awards during a global pandemic when most restaurants have been forced to close its doors and as many other food guides have canceled awards for the year. Valle’s restaurant operated as takeaway-only during the initial phase of the pandemic. It has also benefited from state support, Vallee told CNN.
“It’s an occasion to shine a spotlight on all these talents, to encourage them, and to keep restaurant patrons motivated while waiting for the crisis to pass,” Poullennec told France 24.
MICHELIN’S ABHORRENT ABSENCE OF WOMEN
Vallée now joins a very small group of women to be awarded Michelin stars. According to AFP, as of 2018, only 2.7 percent of Michelin-starred restaurants are run by women in France. Globally, women chefs hold less than five percent of Michelin stars.
In France, widely considered to be the world centre of gastronomy — only one woman holds the maximum three Michelin stars. Her name is Anne-Sophie Pic, and she has been chef at her restaurant, Maison Pic for more than two decades.
Michael Ellis, the international director of the guides, told AFP, that gender is “not something we take into account.”
“Our inspectors are there to check the quality of the cuisine. We don’t look at the chef’s sex, origin or age…just what appears on the plate.”
In 1933, French chef Eugénie Brazier became the first woman to be awarded three Michelin stars, followed by Marie Bourgeois, then Marguerite Bise in 1951.
It was only in 2019 when the first woman in the U.S was awarded three Michelin stars for her San Francisco restaurant Atelier Crenn. To date, no Australian female chefs have been awarded a Michelin star.
Photo Credit: Sandra Hygonnenc