On Tuesday April 28th, Nora Pouillon, an award-winning chef and the owner of America’s first certified organic restaurant, spoke and answered audience questions about her newly released book in a petite conference room of the Sacramento Downtown Library. A crowd of about 40 to 50 people showed up to hear Food Literacy Center founder Amber Stott interview Pouillon about My Organic Life, a memoir of her life’s journey in opening Restaurant Nora and watching it struggle and thrive.
Pouillon spent her first handful of years on a small farm in Vienna, Austria. In an accent “similar to Arnold’s” according to her kids, Pouillon insisted that her upbringing shaped her view of food.
“It had an enormous effect to see people work from morning to evening just for food,” said Pouillon. “I loved to watch them milk the cows.” Watching them put in all that work just to get a few cups of milk taught her a very important lesson.
“I learned that food is precious and developed a great appreciation for it,” said Pouillon.
Pouillon recalls never seeing anyone sick or ill, something she later realized directly correlated with food.
“Father said health is the most important thing in life. You can’t buy it,” said Pouillon. “You have to preserve it.”
Ironically, the best way to preserve health, according to Pouillon, is to avoid preservatives.
After moving to Washington D.C. for her former husband’s journalism career, Pouillon became in charge of cooking for her family.
“I had to learn to cook very fast because, well, we had to eat,” said Pouillon.
As she set out on her cooking venture, Pouillon was repeatedly shocked by American food consumption, both the amount and the type, i.e. frozen or canned.
During her first trip to a supermarket Pouillon recalls never having “seen so much food under one roof,” and being upset by the corn-feed meat being sold there.
“Organic food should be the norm, instead of the conventional food being sold in stores,” said Pouillon. “Why would I put these things in my body?” she asked an audience nodding in approval.
This notion gave Pouillon the passion to hone her cooking skills, eventually leading to the creation of Restaurant Nora, the first ever certified organic restaurant in America.
She was met with a few setbacks but she would not accept anything less than 100 percent certified organic food.
“I had to convince my farmers to become certified,” said Pouillon. “And drop the ones who didn’t.”
To this very day the restaurant continues to amass acclaim. Many respected people have come to dine over the years including our current president, but Pouillon’s favorite guest will always be renowned chef James Beard.
She beams with pride as she recounts him praising her food.
Pouillon even features Beard’s definition of gourmet food in her book. It reads: “gourmet does not mean rich dishes; the word can be applied to the simplest food. Neither is it the cost, it is the care with which the food is selected and prepared.”
Pouillon will continue to promote organic gourmet food as she continues her book tour and her life.
My Organic Life can be purchased at Nora’s Website.