The thirty year old chef Claire Vallée, originally from Lorraine, opened a gourmet vegan restaurant in Gironde. It is named ONA, which stands for Non-Animal Origin. The professionals from the Michelin Guide and Gault&Millau awarded it a plate and two “toques”. A first!
Delightful, Claire’s adventure gives us something to rejoice about. Born in Nancy, she learned about wine and cooking at a very young age, got a doctorate in archeology then, thanks to a summer job, is trained in the restaurant world in Crans-Montana, Switzerland. Self-taught, she first became a pastry chef, then, at age 29, a chef! A trip to Thailand awakened her to healthy, fresh and curative plant-based cooking.
Back in France, Claire first became a vegetarian, then a vegan. “I cannot stand injustice against animals.” Chance having offered her a place in Arès, Gironde, she soon decided, since there was no job offer for a vegan chef, to open her own place. A pizzeria is for sale, but Claire faces the banks who refuse to grant her a loan. Regardless, this determined chef launches a crowd funding project answered by over a hundred contributors and obtains honor loans. Enthusiasts, passers-by, shopkeepers, Facebook members and professionals volunteer on the building site, and six months later, in the fall of 2016, ONA is serving its first customers. “From all walks of life, not necessarily vegans, even oyster farmers and hunters. And the Michelin-starred chefs on the Basin support me.” Her recipe? A warm and simple setting, a maximum of 45 seats and above all a cuisine as delicious and original as it is beautiful and full of color. And, surprise (we tried it for you), it doesn’t leave you hungry, because it is slow to digest. Endlessly creative, the menu is renewed every month, the wines aren’t very tannic, but organic and without animal bonding-agents, the water is ionized, the energy green and the producers are local friends. With Clarisse in the front, Marion and a cooking intern in the kitchen, the chef’s days are like marathons. “I don’t like being bored and I cook the food I like, you can’t give pleasure if you’re not enjoying yourself” says this woman passionate about music, traveling and meeting new people… and about Shanti, the jack russel who doesn’t leave her side and patiently awaits his walk on the beach. On the wall of the bright room, a sentence from the Japanese poet Ida Dakotsu can be read :”From time to time dandelions wake the butterflies from their dreams.” At 39 years old, Claire Vallée is living her dream. She’s the first vegan chef to be in the Michelin Guide with one plate, and in the Gault&Millau with two “toques”; her next step may very well be a star!
Laurence de Calan