This article was originally published by Climate & Capital Media and is reprinted with permission.
With few exceptions, vegetarian, let alone vegan, cuisine has rarely been the métier of Michelin-starred chefs. True food artistry as defined by the greats such as Auguste Escoffier, Ferran Adrià, Julia Child and Alain Ducasse has always been about delicacies, expensive ingredients and largess, namely, meat. But in our climate-changing world, fine dining is waking up to the artistry of plant-based food.
This year, the beknighted gourmet judges at Michelin awarded 57 vegetarian and 24 vegan restaurants around the world with their highly coveted stars. And that number is growing. From vegan superstars Joia in Milan and King’s Joy in Beijing to vegetarian Cookies Cream in Berlin, Eleven Madison Park in New York and Le Comptoir in Los Angeles, the choices for those moving away from meat and fish are many and varied.
Changing to a plant-based diet ranks high on the list of solutions for addressing climate change. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Project Drawdown, if 50 to 75 percent of the world’s population restricted their diet to a healthy average of 2,250 calories per day and reduced meat consumption overall, we could save at least 43-68 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions alone. Couple that with the health benefits of a low fat and lower calorie diet, and giving up meat just makes sense.
Always ahead of global food trends, famous Parisian chef Alain Passard rocked the culinary world in 2001 when he announced that his three-starred Michelin restaurant L’Arpège was dropping meat and going vegetarian. He’s famous for saying he was warned that it would be a "death sentence" but, incroyable, he’s still with us and has recently announced post-COVID plans to reopen in September. Vax up and make your reservation now.
Local and sustainable fish and vegetables are just as, if not more, versatile than meat — and delicious.
Michelin first granted star recognition to a meat-free restaurant in 2019 to celebrate French chef Dominique Crenn. Her three-star restaurant Atelier Crenn in San Francisco has three Michelin stars and that November, she announced that all of her restaurants would officially commit to being meat-free but would continue to serve sustainable seafood. Her reasoning for the shift was unapologetically environmental.
"Meat is insanely complicated — both within the food system and the environment as a whole," she said in media statements at the time. "Local and sustainable fish and vegetables are just as, if not more, versatile — and delicious.”
In 2020, Michelin’s first Beijing Guide saw vegetarian restaurant King’s Joy awarded two stars with judges praising the locally sourced organic ingredients and wild mushrooms. There are now more than a dozen Michelin-starred vegetarian restaurants in China and Japan alone.
Unbelievably, 2021 is the first year a vegan restaurant in France, ONA for Origine Non-Animale ("animal-free origin"), run by chef Claire Vallée, was awarded a Michelin star. Based in Arès, near Bordeaux, Vallée is a self-taught chef and former archaeologist who chose to go vegan after a trip to Asia. She crowdfunded to start her restaurant in 2016 because mainstream banks told her that the outlook for veganism and plant-based food was "too uncertain."
Her Michelin star is sweet, meat-free revenge.
This star is evidence that French gastronomy is becoming more inclusive and that plant-based dishes belong there too.
"This goes to show that nothing is impossible," Vallée wrote on Instagram after getting the call from Michelin in January. "We will continue on this path because this star is mine, it is yours … it is the one that definitively brings vegetable gastronomy into the closed circle of French and global gastronomy."
In addition to her much-coveted Michelin star, Vallée was also awarded a green star, which Michelin introduced in 2020 for restaurants with outstanding environmental and ethical practices.
ONA serves a seven-course vegan menu with ingredients including seaweed, fir tree, sake, tonka, black truffle, hibiscus and amber ale. Her team uses seasonal, organic and local produce and boasts a kitchen with 140 varieties of edible plants. Naturally, their energy is renewable and their food waste is composted.
"This is a good thing for the vegan community as this star is evidence that French gastronomy is becoming more inclusive and that plant-based dishes belong there too," Vallée said.
When three-star Michelin chef Ducasse goes veggo, as he has at his Hôtel Plaza Athénée restaurant in Paris, you know France is changing. And where French cuisine goes, so goes the world.