Nora Pouillon

A tireless advocate of the organic food movement since coming to the U.S. in the late 1960s is Nora Pouillon, famous chef of Restaurant Nora in Washington, D.C.

Born in Vienna, Austria, Nora had just turned 18 when she married the French journalist Pierre Pouillon and decided to follow him to Washington. At that time, money was tight and in order to provide her young family with healthy food, Nora was willing to try out all kinds of dishes.

Family and friends were delighted, urging her to share her knowledge and expertise with the public. It was not until the 1970s that she started teaching cooking classes called The Budget Gourmet ThThe and opened her own catering business called Food for Friends.

Even back then, Nora placed a high value on organic products as well as poultry and meat from animals raised according to organic principles. Nora soon discovered that those goods were not readily available in the region. As a result, she began searching for local farms from which she could obtain fresh, organic produce and eventually started to teach farmers how to grow specific seasonal crops themselves.

In the following years, this pioneer of organic, environmentally-conscious cuisine quickly became well-known and popular throughout the city. In 1976, she was asked by a friend to install a kitchen and start a restaurant within the renowned Tabard Inn in Washington, D.C. Only three years later, she opened her first restaurant called Nora in D.C.’s historic Dupont Circle district.

Initially, the odds seemed to be against the success of Nora. People were skeptical about the chef ’s green concept and critics felt that her approach was too radical. Her organic dishes, however, which were not only healthy but also delicious, soon caused the guests to change their opinion and applaud this new type of haute cuisine.

Twenty years later, in 1999, Nora became the first certified organic restaurant in the United States, which guarantees that at least 95% of all food served is obtained from certified organic sources. Nora herself was instrumental in creating those certification standards by working with an organic certification agency, Oregon Tilth, to establish the rules defining what it means to be an organic restaurant.

She also initiated the first producer-only farmers’ markets in the D.C. area, commonly known today as FRESHFARM Markets. Besides being the author of Cooking with Nora, the Austrian chef has a seat on the board of several organizations including The Amazon Conservation Team, the Earth Day Network and the Wholesome Wave.

Among all the other awards she received are Chef of the Year in 1996 and the StarChefs Innovator Award in 2010. This native-born Viennese will always be known as a champion of wholesome natural food as well as sustainable living, and what better way to experience this than to taste her famous cuisine at Nora, the nation’s first organic restaurant.

By Anja Mayer