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Meet Claire Vallée – Chef owner of Ona in Arès, France.

By disrupting the preconceived ideas of haute gastronomy, this Chef advocates for a committed, vegan cuisine. As the first fully vegan Michelin-starred restaurant in the world, it proves that pure veganism can be associated with a fine-dining experience.

Photo by Maxime Gautier

The self-taught chef, Claire Vallée, who is originally from Nancy, founded a gastronomic restaurant in Arès four years ago. ONA, which stands for Origine Non Animale — ‘animal free origins’, serves elevated, vegetable-forward dishes in a country famous for its dairy and meat centric cuisine.

This project was born out of being "fed up" with junk food, industrial food (animal and produce), and of course the refusal of animal exploitation. More than a fine-dining restaurant, ONA wants to be a place that respects humans, nature, and animals. The Michelin Guide, which rewarded ONA its first star this month, said in a recent statement that Ms. Vallée had given vegan cuisine its “letters of nobility.” It is the first time in history that the thick red bible of gastronomy awarded a fully vegan restaurant, a Michelin star. The Michelin Guide also awarded ONA for its commitment to innovative, plant-based dining with a Michelin `Green-Star’, reserved for restaurants that are committed to advocating a virtuous, sustainable approach to gastronomy.

Even though the restaurant is currently closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, Claire is spreading her message and committed values to raise awareness of the dangers to the planet and to our health.

Welcome Claire to Chefs for Impact!

By Claire Vallée as told to Chefs for Impact

How would you define sustainable gastronomy?

"A responsible gastronomy is defined by the choice of products that we decide to put on our plates. It means working with local producers in order to avoid carbon impact and to bring the terroir to life while protecting animals.”

What led you to become a vegan?

"I did not become vegan by taste but out of awakening. While working in Thailand, I discovered the potential of tasty cuisine focused on plants, spices, vegetables, herbs and meat substitutes such as tofu, seitan, etc. I then realized all that was possible to do with plant-based food, which became an exciting and infinitely creative 'hunting ground' for me. I also reviewed my perception of food from an ecological point of view, the impact on health and the responsibility towards animals, which are living beings on the planet.”

Why do you think we should reduce or even stop eating animal products?

"Factory farming is the main cause for an animal’s suffering and misery. On the other hand, there are small producers who do their work very well, it is important to say so. From a health point of view, when you eat meat or fish raised in battery farms, you find yourself eating antibiotics and growth hormones. Eating too much meat or too many dairy products is not good for your health and is also a source of cancer. The ecological impact is also terrible: water consumption and waste rejected and absorbed by the water tables. It's simple, industrial farming is an environmental catastrophe.”

What are the challenges, if any, of this philosophy?

"Becoming a vegan is quite a reflection and it also brings its share of constraints because we are not going to lie to each other, it is not easy to review your diet. In my case, it was progressive. I started to remove the meat and then the fish, then I looked at the dairy industry to realize that it was not more responsible. A cow doesn't make milk at will, to do this she needs a calf which means inseminations, etc.”

How do you imagine tomorrow's gastronomy?

"I think there are many industries that are moving towards plant-based meat to allow consumers to make the transition and to make it easier because it's more difficult for some than for others. Meat substitutes are interesting and tasty, as long as they are not filled with GMOs and coloring agents or sugar, in which case there is no point. At ONA, we make our own substitutes, so we know exactly what they are made of. For me, vegan cuisine is the kitchen of the future because it meets all our needs: ecology, biology, ethics, human and health.”

What drives you?

"I want to show that you can eat differently. I think it is the role of chefs to offer the best possible quality to their customers, while limiting the ecological impact. A delicious refined cuisine, full of emotion that is continually reinventing itself.”

“We want to show that you can eat differently."

Photo by Maxime Gautier

It is the first time the Michelin Guide has awarded a star to a fully vegan restaurant. Do you think that vegan gastronomy is going to take an increasingly important place within the fine dining industry?

"There has been a growing awareness on the part of chefs for several years now. It's an increasingly sensitive subject, it's a positive message from the Michelin guide, and an opening for the future, an encouragement to explore plant-based cooking."



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