Most French vegetarians and vegans will tell you that it’s not easy avoiding meat in France, the land of culinary savoir faire, although the situation is changing somewhat. Increasingly, vegetarian options can be found across the country–since 2018, schools have been legally required to offer vegetarian or vegan options one day per week.
This seems to be confirmed by the fact that Michelin awarded one of its stars to a restaurant near Bordeaux serving only animal-free dishes. The restaurant is called ONA, which stands for Origine Non Animale (animal free origins). Its owner and chef, Claire Vallée, was somewhat shocked when she received the call from Michelin on Thursday night. Michelin told AFP that ONA is the first vegan restaurant to win a star.
ONA is located in Ares, near the Arcachon basin, a seaside resort in southwest France, known for its wild countryside, oyster farming and Europe’s largest sand dune, the Dune du Pilat. Vallée told France 3 that it “was one of the best moments of my life” and that she is incredibly proud of her team.
The Local also reported that ONA was also awarded a green star, which Michelin started awarding last year for excellence in ethical practices. Vallée started the business in 2016 with a loan from a green bank, Le Nef, and a successful crowdfunding campaign, amassing €10,000 ($12,124). Vallée told AFP that traditional banks had said that “the outlook for veganism and plant-based food was too uncertain.”
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Michelin has come under criticism for running its annual awards during the Covid-19 pandemic, when most restaurants are closed. Gwendal Poullennec, head of the Michelin Guide, defended the decision to continue in 2021, as a way to support the industry–crucially, no one has lost stars during this tumultuous period. Other food guides decided to cancel awards for this year.