In ‘Organic Life’, The Making Of America’s First Certified Organic Restaurant: The Salt: NPR



Chef, cookbook author and restaurant owner Nora in Washington, DC, Nora Pouillon, in the restaurant’s garden.

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Chef, cookbook author and restaurant owner Nora in Washington, DC, Nora Pouillon, in the restaurant’s garden.

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When restaurateur Nora Pouillon moved from Austria to the United States in the 1960s, she was surprised at how difficult it was to get really fresh food. Everything has been packed and processed. Pouillon set out to find the best possible ingredients to cook for her family and friends. She brought that same sensibility to her restaurant Nora, which eventually became the country’s first certified organic restaurant.

Pouillon writes about his lifelong dedication to food in a new memoir, My Biological Life: How a Pioneering Chef Helped Shape the Way We Eat Today.

Nora Restaurant is tucked away in an old brick building in a bustling corner of the nation’s capital. A herb garden occupies part of the sidewalk in front of the restaurant.

Pouillon traces her interest in food back to her early years when she lived on a farm in the Alps during WWII.

“This time I showed how food is like a treasure and how difficult it is to grow and raise enough food to feed you and your family all year round,” he says. she. “And that gave me great respect for the food.”

Today, Pouillon channels her passion for cooking into her restaurant, which has been part of the Washington, DC culinary scene since 1979. When Pouillon was about to open the restaurant, she was introduced to the reigning couple at the time. , Washington post editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee and his wife, journalist Sally Quinn. They agreed to invest in the restaurant, but Pouillon says Quinn offered a word of warning:

“I told them… that I really wanted to make natural food and she said, ‘Don’t just tell them it’s diet food because people hate diet food; they think it’s bad. “So anyway, I just called it ‘food without additives”, says Pouillon.

Natural food, Pouillon says, was the norm when she lived in Europe. But when she moved to this country as a young bride, she had to look for fresh ingredients wherever she could find them, mainly in small ethnic markets. And when she got into the restaurant business, she looked for local farmers who could supply her with the ingredients she needed.

“It was tough, I mean I had to go to Virginia to search for farmers and you know, so there was no Google,” she recalls. “So you couldn’t just Google organic farm or natural farm. So I had to go through the yellow pages, and through the yellow pages, I found farmers. “

Pouillon’s approach has drawn legions of fans including politicians, journalists and even presidents.

Pouillon is still in the restaurant every day, which begins when she meets her chefs to discuss what is needed for the day’s service.

Restaurant Nora was certified as an organic restaurant in 1999, which means 95 percent of all ingredients, including seasonings and condiments, must be organic. Sometimes, says Pouillon, it can be difficult.

“It’s a big deal that I often run out of things because the farmer didn’t deliver what he said he would because the beetles ate [it] either the frost came or it was too wet … and because of my upbringing I understand that. But that drives my bosses crazy, ”she says.

While the kitchen staff prepare the dishes for the day, Chef James Martin and Pouillon review food orders.

“Roughly, the farm governs this cuisine, especially when you buy organic products … it takes patience, it takes time, it takes love, it takes a lot of care, it takes a lot of work”, explains Martin.

The food scene in this country has changed radically since Pouillon first settled there: farmers’ markets have sprung up all over the place, supermarkets now offer fresh vegetables and organic meats and the food movement. farm-to-table is increasingly popular. In fact, Pouillon says that sometimes different approaches to natural foods seem to compete with each other.

“People always ask me: what’s better, organic or local? And I say, well, there’s nothing wrong with being local and organic, ”she says.

Now over 70, Pouillon says she feels her life has come full circle since that early childhood where she learned to respect the food and work it takes to raise, cook and serve it.


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