The first vegan restaurant in France to win a Michelin star has closed just a year after winning the prestigious award due to being unable to find enough staff to work at its site in the south-west.
Self-taught chef Claire Vallée says that she has been forced to close Arès-based ONA – standing for ‘Origine non animale’ – despite having strong bookings.
ONA opened in 2016 with the help of a crowdfunding campaign and volunteers who helped carry out work on the restaurant.
Ms Vallée only used organic products from local producers. She offered two menus: a ‘market menu’ which changed each week and a gastronomic menu of seven to 11 dishes which changed each month.
ONA’s gastronomic Odyss tasting menu was priced at €116.
Creativity was at the centre of the dishes, which included broccoli cooked on hay, raspberry gazpacho and ‘celery, tonka and amber beer’.
We spoke to Ms Vallée, who was born in Nancy and grew up in Montélimar, as she prepared to take a flight to South Korea where she is working at a pop-up restaurant during November.
Claire Vallée will be at Paul Bocuse’s pop-up restaurant in South Korea. Photo credit: Claire Vallée
Over the phone, she explained that: “In France, there is a shortage of 500,000 workers in the catering industry because the workforce is no longer interested in jobs in the sector”.
Lack of housing options near restaurant
She pointed out that while her restaurant ONA was fully booked two to three months in advance, she had to shut down notably because of the lack of workers.
She added that while the coronavirus pandemic has vastly accelerated the trend, it is not the source of the problem and that she had worked hard to adapt to the Covid rules for restaurateurs.
She said that, even though she proposed contracts involving a working week of 3.5 days, as well as 10 weeks’ holiday, she could not recruit. The working hours are no longer convenient for candidates, she said.
She added that the problem was amplified by the lack of housing options near the restaurant in the Bassin d’Arcachon in Gironde. It was difficult for her to attract and recruit young talent as they could not find a place to live in the area.
According to her, it is up to professionals to find ways to valorise the industry, put the human being in the spotlight, but also find new ways of working and cooking to face the current energy costs issues.
In this regard, she told us she is working on the design of less energy consuming preservation methods.
Ms Vallée said that her experience with ONA was incredible: "I met great people, I passed on, I learned.”
Ms Vallée still has several on-going projects in France and aims to build new local partnerships.
What are Claire Vallée’s plans now?
This month, Ms Vallée will be at Paul Bocuse pop-up restaurant in South Korea.
The concept has been set up by students of the Paul Bocuse Institute.
Ms Vallée will share her savoir-faire with them and together they will prepare some of the recipes included in her recently published cooking book Origine Non Animale.
The book contains more than 80 fully vegan recipes. You can find out more details about Claire Vallée’s book here.
She will also be a speaker during the upcoming event ‘Climat: Quelle culture pour quel futur?’ from December 1- 4 at the Centre Pompidou, Paris. More information on the conference here.