A Sign of France’s Culinary Shift

A Sign of France’s Culinary Shift

By Juliette Frank

“France is known for its haute cuisine filled with meat-laden dishes.”

For anyone working in the restaurant industry, chefs, and foodies alike understand the value of a Michelin star. For more than a century, the French tire company has been publishing annual restaurant reference guidebooks which award up to three Michelin stars for excellence to a select few establishments. Gaining or losing a star can have dramatic effects on the success or downfall of a restaurant’s business and reputation. Traditionally, France is known for its haute cuisine filled with meat-laden dishes such as coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon, and duck confit. The country is also known globally for its high culinary standards and long-standing traditions as food is a requisite part of French culture that is taken very seriously. In January when ONA became the first fully vegan restaurant in France to receive a Michelin star it was a clear sign of the country’s shifting culinary landscape.

“Discovering new tastes from a cuisine that is fresh, seasonal, and organic.”

Led by chef Claire Vallée, ONA opened 5 years ago in Arès, a small town on the Atlantic Coast about 25 miles west of Bordeaux. Speaking to France’s growing movement away from meat, the restaurant’s name stands for ‘originale non-animale’. ONA avoids all animal products, not only in the dishes themselves, but even the restaurant’s furniture and decor do not use animal materials such as wool and leather. Vallée’s idea behind the menu is the concept of discovering new tastes from a cuisine that is fresh, seasonal, and organic. The dishes change based on seasonality of ingredients and often include intriguing combinations such as dulse, lemongrass, and galangal that intend to satisfy all the senses.

The world of elite gastronomy is typically not one to adapt to individual dietary restrictions and health trends; especially in countries like France that pride themselves in their deep-rooted culinary traditions. Although the general public may not associate vegan cuisine as a gastronomical experience quite yet, a Michelin star will likely push chefs to explore more plant-based dishes.

On top of a Michelin star, ONA also received a green star, the Michelin Guide’s new category awarded to restaurants that are “committed to advocating a virtuous, sustainable approach to gastronomy” said Gwendal Poullenec, the international head of the Michelin Guides. Inspectors for the new green star are looking for restaurants that work with local producers, grow their own produce, or reduce the quantity of kitchen waste.

“Plant-based cuisine, focused on the quality of ingredients, deserves the same level of recognition as those that use animal products.”

It is unlikely that the world of gastronomy will be making a full shift away from meat in the near future, but ONA’s Michelin star is an important step in increasing visibility for vegan food in the global culinary arena. More chefs experimenting with plant-based dishes will encourage the vegan paradigm shift away from “trendy health food” towards high level gastronomy. ONA’s Michelin star shows diners that plant-based cuisine, focused on the quality of ingredients, deserves the same level of recognition as those that use animal products. Plant-based options continue to grow in popularity due to health concerns around animal product consumption, awareness of the collateral damage of meat production on climate and increasing evidence that a largely plant-based diet is beneficial for harboring a healthy gut microbiome and overall well-being.

“New opportunities for climate action in the culinary world”

Michelin Guide’s green star brings to light crucial factors of sustainability in the restaurant space including source, production, and waste of ingredients. The acknowledgement of food as a source of environmental harm brings new opportunities for climate action in the culinary world. The hope is that this will garner a greater sense of appreciation for seasonal ingredients and push the local food movement forward, supporting local farmers and growers and steering away from commercially sourced products with a large carbon footprint. ONA’s recognition as a high-class gastronomical establishment focused on sustainability is a note-worthy shift in criteria for restaurants around the globe as food plays a major role in determining the health of our bodies, our minds, and our planet.

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Juliette Frank is a UCLA student majoring in Public Affairs with a minor in Food Studies. Her interests include the interrelation between food systems, digestive health and the environmental impacts of food production.