Cooking up Change Judge Spotlight: Chef Nora Pouillon

May 16, 2012

In the Cooking up Change national healthy cooking contest, a remarkable panel of judges steps up to the tough task of selecting a winner after sampling healthy school meals created by six teams of talented culinary students. This year’s prestigious panel of judges includes chefs, advocates and national leaders in the movement for healthy school food. Today, we’re happy to spotlight contest judge Chef Nora Pouillon!

Chef_noraChef Nora Pouillon, a pioneer and champion of organic, environmentally conscious cuisine opened Restaurant Nora in 1979. Two decades later, the restaurant became the first certified organic restaurant in the country. The restaurant has hosted several presidents of the United States.

The Austrian chef also initiated D.C.’s first producer-only farmer’s market, called FRESHFARM Markets, which now includes eleven markets in the metropolitan area. Nora is the author of Cooking with Nora, a seasonal cookbook that was a finalist for the Julia Child Cookbook Award, and is currently working on her memoirs.

What motivated you to participate in Cooking up Change?
I was asked by the James Beard Foundation, and I thought it fit in the philosophies of my restaurant, to encourage people. Food is so important, it's what you put in your body. It’s so important for well-being. Being a judge and encouraging these young people to go the right direction is important to me.

What was your favorite school lunch growing up? What is your favorite lunch now?
Growing up in Vienna, Austria, I guess I was privileged because I went to a school where we were served three-course meals. For me, school lunch was an educational moment. It's not just about healthy food, but also about how different cultures eat in a different way. We learned how to use a fork, knife, and spoon, how to have conversations over food. School lunch is an enormous educational moment that in this country is often completely overlooked.

Now, my favorite lunch is a big cup of salad and everything I can throw in from my refrigerator. Brown rice, beets, asparagus, chicken, whatever is left over! A soup with a little body is great too.

How does it feel to lend your expertise to these aspiring chefs?
I encourage them to learn about your ingredients, learn where they are from and how they are grown. I encourage the kids to work on a farm — everyone should know where their food comes from. If you cook and nourish yourself, it helps to learn about the ingredients. Putting them together in a delicious meal will be much easier.

What words of encouragement do you have for the student chefs?
Health is the most important thing people have in their lives. We should try to preserve it, feed it and give it the right things to stay healthy. When you believe in something, you should just go ahead and do it. People will catch up with you.

I hope that my restaurant is an inspiration in that I’ve been doing this for so long. . . .I think they have to understand that it's a big commitment. Many people have the wrong impression from all of the TV shows. So many shows make chefs these glamour stars — it gives the impression that it's all they do. [Being a chef] is hard work. You have to work very hard before you come to the point where you can step out of the kitchen as sort of a manager and teacher.

Many thanks to Chef Nora Pouillon for sharing encouraging words with the student chefs and for lending her time and talent to the judging panel at Cooking up Change!

The Cooking up Change national finals will take place on May 21 in Washington D.C. For more information and profiles of the teams, be sure to check out CookingupChange.org