Nation's first organic restaurant remains an institution in nation's capital

- If you have spent much time in the D.C. area, you probably know about Restaurant Nora. Maybe you have even dined there. It is famous for being the first organic restaurant in the country.

But Nora Pouillon didn't just start a restaurant -- she helped start a revolution.

If only the walls of this restaurant could talk.

“We did this room for the inauguration of [Bill] Clinton for his first presidency,” Pouillon said. “He had a big party here.”

The Clintons are not the only fans of Restaurant Nora. The Obamas come here too. She also has had the Carters along with former first lady Nancy Reagan to stop by.

This is the country's first organic restaurant and Pouillon embraced the farm-to-table concept as a business in the United States before anyone else did.

A native of Austria, she moved to the U.S. in 1965.

“When I came to this country with a Frenchman, I had to learn how to cook very fast,” she said.

But Pouillon couldn't find the ingredients she had at home.

“Wonder Bread was the bread du jour and the lettuce was iceberg lettuce, and the vegetable department in the grocery store was the smallest department,” she recalled.

And she soon learned of the health problems in the U.S. and recalled her father's lessons.

“He always said, ‘Health is the most important thing you have in your life and you better preserve it. No money in the world can buy it,’” said Pouillon. “That's when I started to go out in the country and find the farmers.”

She sought quality ingredients, organic produce and to show Americans what they were missing.

“I realized that must be the reason why people are so unhealthy because what they put in their body is not high in nutritional value,” she said.

Restaurant Nora opened in 1979.

“Thirty-six years ago, people didn't say organic,” said Pouillon. “We called it additive-free because we thought it would explain better what it is.”

The menu explained, and still does today, where everything comes from. She tells about the farmers who don't use antibiotics, pesticides, additives and growth hormones.

She even grows some of her own herbs out front.

But it's not easy. You can't always get what you want. Committing to organic limits her to only what's in season -- and it's more expensive.

Despite that, her farm-to-table idea has caught on and made her even more of an institution in the nation’s capital.

“I think it's wonderful,” she said. “I just wish it would be a little faster.”

And she hopes to inspire people to go organic at home, even if it just starts with milk.

“And then maybe chicken and then the lettuce, and perhaps after a year, half of the food that you eat is organic and that would make a big difference,” said Pouillon. “People don't make the connection of what they put in their body and how they feel.”

You can thank her not only for the organic restaurant idea, but for bringing the farmers market movement to D.C. She is responsible for initiating many of the farmers markets in our area.

Pouillon also talks about her journey in her new book, "My Organic Life.”

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