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This week, Top Chef DC approached Washington less like tourists and more like honeymooners.  Sure, they knew the sights were out there, but they were perfectly content to spend the day in the hotel.

Poor Season 7 cheftestants.  When Top Chef did a hotel dining challenge in Season 1, the chefs served professional poker players and the cast of Cirque du Soleil.  When they did a hotel dining challenge last season (in Las Vegas, where the hotels pretty much ARE the attractions), they served breakfast in bed to Padma and Nigella Lawson.

This time?  Breakfast lunch and dinner to DC area Top Chef alums and the chef/owner of the country’s first certified organic restaurant.

So that means we’re all about the personalities this week as we dig into the who’s, what’s and where’s of Top Chef DC.  After the jump, find out what Mike Isabella, Spike Mendelsohn and Bryan Voltaggio have been up to since their appearances on Top Chef, meet celebrated chef Nora Pouillon and check out a local company that’s doing baby food even Padma and Tom would like. (more…)

Kudos to Restaurant Nora which scored the Michelle Obama birthday dinner this year. We heartily agree with the location choice. 
Attention eco-conscious seafood eaters: Seafood Watch added U.S.-farmed Coho salmon, Alaskan wild-caught pollock and U.S.-farmed freshwater prawns to its list of sustainable seafood choices. 
Arugula Files makes a leek and goat cheese galette
The Taco Bell founder passed away this week. 
Gansie at Endless Simmer wants to be down with smoking a white fish. Should we loop her in to the Big Green Egg mafia?  
San Francisco vendors place a renewed interest in artisan, sustainable bacon. I didn’t know bacon was considered unsustainable?  
18th and Swine posts some competition-level recipes for BBQ rubs and sauces.

Specially trained dogs in Oregon sniff out ripe truffles. 
Want to see how DC elite dined? Things That Inspire put together a great collection of Kennedy-owned homes from the DC area, including kitchens and dining rooms.  Good news – some of the homes are for sale! 
BYT and Thrillist are giving away a fully stocked bar.  Sign up for a chance to win.
White Castle will be taking reservations for Valentine’s Day.  
Candy hearts, everyone’s least favorite Valentine’s Day candy, are adding a social media message to the hearts this year. 
Going Green DC gives us the lowdown on organic cocktails.

NoraWhen I set out to duplicate twelve chefs’ recipes over the course of this year, I knew that there were some chefs whose recipes could be attempted year-round and others whose work would fare best in certain seasons (summer and fall, I’m looking at you).  My birthday dinner at Restaurant Nora last year convinced me that Nora Pouillon, the patron saint of the DC organic dining movement, falls squarely into the second category.

And when I flipped through a copy of Cooking with Nora, her groundbreaking cookbook from 1996, I knew I owed it to Chef Pouillon’s recipes to wait until summer to try my hand at her dishes.  Cooking with Nora is not your average recipe collection; rather than grouping dishes by unifying themes (‘desserts,’ for example, or ‘fish’), the chef has opted to provide her readers with recipes arranged into multi-course meals by the season.  She’s practically giving you the blueprint for your very own organic dinner party, with everything from appetizer to entree and accompaniment through to the dessert spelled out.

She also presents her recipes in a narrative fashion, a style I first encountered in Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food.  I find this to be a very natural and useful way of having the author walk me through a dish from beginning to end, and it certainly helps me prepare my mise en place before I get too far ahead of myself.  When you’re trying to execute two or three recipes simultaneously, that kind of preparation in advance can be a lifesaver.

Roasted Red Peppers and Japanese EggplantFor my fifth attempt at recreating a chef’s dishes, I decided to take three recipes from one of Pouillon’s summer menus.  I started with a Jewell Yam Vichysoisse and then followed it up with Grilled Lemon-Marinated Chicken Breasts served alongside Japanese Eggplant and Roasted Red Peppers. 

Walking the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market, I was pleased – if not especially surprised – to see that all of the main ingredients to Chef Pouillon’s recipes were readily available (seasonality aside, Nora Pouillon is a member of FreshFarm Markets’ board).  It looked like I was well on my way to a fresh, local and seasonal jackpot.

Cold soup, grilled grass-kickin’ chicken and fresh veggies after the jump. (more…)

From the Nora website. what kind of dork wears a white baseball hat to a nice meal?

From the Nora website. But what kind of dork wears a white baseball hat to a nice meal?

In the world of organic dining, just about everyone is a chef-come-lately to Chef Nora Pouillon. Restaurant Nora was the first in America to be certified organic and after 11 years with the title it remains only one of four in American restaurants to earn that certifcation. This means 95% of Nora’s menu items are certified organic. Items not certified, such as the morel mushroom and leek tart (since wild harvested mushrooms cannot be guaranteed organic), are noted for diners.

The organic philosophy at Nora goes beyond menu items. The restaurant installed a special water system so all water in the building – from the tap water on your table to water used to clean produce – has been triple filtered to remove chlorine, bacteria and metals. The soap in the restrooms is organic (and smells lovely, by the way). Even the shirts worn by servers are 100% organic cotton.

But we didn’t make a reservation at Nora to marvel at the organic-ness of it all. We went for the food.  (more…)