First Michelin Star Vegan French Restaurant!

Restaurant ONA in the city of Ares rewarded after initially struggling to get funding to open its doors. Agence France-Presse, in the Guardian. January 2021.

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Claire Vallée, Michelin star restaurateur

A vegan restaurant in south-west France has won a Michelin star, the first for an establishment serving only animal-free products in France.

Claire Vallee runs the restaurant ONA – which stands for Origine Non Animale– in the city of Ares, near Bordeaux, which she launched in 2016 thanks to crowdfunding from supporters and a loan from a green bank.

“It felt like I got hit by a train,” Vallee told AFP about the moment she received a call from the Guide Michelin informing her of its decision.

In addition to Monday’s award of the classic star, Vallee also won a green star, which Michelin introduced last year to reward establishments with a strong record for ethical practices.

ONA is “the first vegan restaurant in France to win a star”, a Guide Michelin spokeswoman told AFP.

Vallee offered seven dishes on her gourmet menu before she had to close ONA because of Covid-19 restrictions. Her favourite combinations involve pine, boletus mushroom and sake, or celery, tonka and amber ale.

Traditional French banks gave the young chef short shrift 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 said. The chosen location for her restaurant in the Arcachon basin on the Atlantic coast was also not considered promising enough.

Vallee said she held no grudge: “Everybody does their job.”

Vallee went on to secure financing through crowdfunding, without the need for collateral, and through Le Nef, a bank that specialises in lending to projects it considers ethical. “This goes to show that nothing is impossible,” she said.

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