Chef Nora Pouillon Talks about Starting the First Organic Restaurant

Ellen Haas Health Guide
  • Washington DC is home to the nationally recognized Restaurant Nora, the first restaurant in the United States to be certified organic. As Chef Nora Pouillon told me when we sat down at Ellen's Healthy Table, you can "trust" the food at the restaurant to be healthy. Nora is an outstanding pioneer and a strong advocate for a sustainable food system. It was great to hear her story about blazing the path for others to follow.


    Why did you become the first "organic" restaurant in the United States?

    I always did organic food. When I opened the restaurant in the 1970s it was not easy to find organic products. I realized that much more could be certified organic. Neither my customers nor my peers in the restaurant field realized that. People were not aware of how different it is to do 100% organic and not "once in a while" organic. I wanted Restaurant Nora to be a place where everything you eat is certified organic so I decided to go for it.

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    What challenges did you face becoming a certified organic restaurant?

    My first step was that I had to find a certification agency. In 1997 I found the Oregon Tilth agency and it took them 2 years to do it. No one had done it before so they had to take a certification program from stores and apply it to a restaurant. They created standards for a restaurant and put it in front of the Organic Standards Board.


    What kinds of sources were covered to be certified organic in Restaurant Nora?

    All the food in Restaurant Nora, whether it comes from producers or distributers or others, has to be certified organic. At our restaurant we have one person on staff that does nothing but find new organic sources of food. We had to prove that least 95% of food was coming from certified organic sources.


    You are such a passionate advocate for organic food. What do you see as the benefits of being an organic restaurant?

    Customers come to our restaurant because it is a healthy restaurant. It's personal. They want it be healthy and that means no chemical additives, no hormones, etc. The important thing is that they can trust the food. Also, our food is low fat. We do not use butter cream and we watch the sodium too. You can trust the food to be healthy in every way.


    Are there other organic restaurants in the country? How have you helped them to be certified?

    Now restaurants don't have to develop standards the way Restaurant Nora did. There are four certified organic restaurant in the country. We did it for them. But it needs a commitment.


    Chef Nora Pouillon visits our local farmer's market every week and here is wonderful salad recipe she brought to Ellen's Healthy Table:


    Belgian Endive, Mache, Beets and Apple with Walnuts and Sherry Vinaigrette

    Published On: April 25, 2008