A Valentine’s Day Treat: Sustainable food advocate and accomplished chef, Nora Pouillon shares her thoughts on safe food

On the tail of another troubling slew of food recalls we come upon everyone’s favorite Hallmark holiday, Valentine’s Day. 

vday plate article.jpgIn the Washington, DC area, no restaurant exemplifies safe food better than Restaurant Nora.  For the past 31 years, sustainable food advocate and chef Nora Pouillon, has emphasized the importance of buying local and following the seasons for food selection.

“The whole philosophy of the restaurant is safe food,” said Pouillon.  “Food grown without any chemical additives is the only safe food, in my opinion.” 

At the restaurant, Pouillon ensures that she and her chefs handle food very carefully.  “We know personally our farmers, we visit them regularly and we appreciate their efforts to raise and grow the food for us,” she said. 

In addition to farmer familiarity, cleanliness is a top concern. According to Pouillon, everything is cleaned and washed thoroughly then put away immediately and stored properly.

“We have a person on staff who cleans and puts away all the vegetables that are delivered  every day with the dates marked on all the storage bins so we use them timely. The meat and fish cutter does the same. All meats and poultry are cut up as soon as they arrive, Cryovacced, dated and refrigerated or frozen,” said Pouillon.

In April of 1999, Restaurant Nora became the first certified organic restaurant in the United States.  In order to obtain and retain this certification, Pouillon and her staff make sure that 95 percent or more of everything on her menu has been produced by certified organic growers and farmers. “
My insistence on organic, local and seasonal foods is exactly for health and safety reasons,” she says. 

As for Valentine’s Day, Restaurant Nora offers a special themed menu for their customers.  “We try to incorporate as much red as possible, for instance, we freeze a lot of red peppers from our farmer in the summer just for this occasion,”  Pouillon said.  “We use beets, paprika, chilis, blood oranges, red peppers, raspberries, strawberries frozen for sauces.  We even make a chocolate dessert with chilies.”

Along with running her restaurant, Pouillon’s dedication to safe food includes numerous projects such as establishing a farmer-to-chef

connection, which introduces farmers to other local chefs to help boost their farms’ economic viability, and initiating the first

producer-only farmer’s market in Washington, DC (known as Fresh Farm

Markets), which has expanded to eight different markets around the city. 

Pouillon also serves as a board member of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs. 

How does Pouillon decide where she wants to eat?  “Before I choose a restaurant, I read the menu and look if the chef uses at least some organic, local and sustainable ingredients so that I am assured he is concerned about his food sources.”

Another good way to gauge a restaurant’s sanitary practices is to check out the bathrooms.  “I follow the principle that Anthony Bourdain set,” said chef Kati Gimes of Slow Food DC.  “I look at the bathrooms of the restaurants and if they’re not clean imagine how the kitchen looks.”

Whether cooking at home or in a restaurant, everyone in the industry stresses cleanliness in the kitchen.  Make sure to use separate cutting boards for raw meats and vegetables, wash everything with water and vegetables with food soap, if available.

Virginia cheese maker and cheesemonger Charlotte Hirst offers some characteristics she looks for when purchasing her food, “Local first, sustainable second, and organic third.”

From all of us here at Food Safety News, have a Safe & Happy Valentine’s Day!