Ouita Michel has always made locally grown ingredients a priority in her restaurants.
That's why the cuisine is so good.
"For me, while studying French and Italian cuisine, I realized they use local agricultural artisan products in their food. And that's why it's so good. That's why from the beginning of wanting to be a chef, I've committed to supporting local agriculture. Buying local is a tradition that our culture seemed to abandon for a few decades. I love cooking straight from the garden."
She and her husband, Chris, bought the Holly Hill Inn in 2000 and opened the fine dining restaurant in May 2001. Michel's use of locally sourced foods both helps sustain Bluegrass family farms and provides her customers only the freshest, best-tasting fine cuisine. The devotion to local foods is evident also at her other restaurants: Wallace Station Deli just outside Midway; Windy Corner Market, Smithtown Seafood, Zim's Cafe, The Thirsty Fox and Honeywood in Lexington; and The Midway Bakery, Midway. Michel's catering division, Holly Hill Events, shares Kentucky-sourced cuisine and hospitality with groups of all sizes.
Her restaurants have purchased more than $3 million of Kentucky-grown meats, dairy products, fruits and vegetables over the last 19 years. Her reputation and commitment to sustainability have earned speaking invitations and awards from local, regional and national organizations.
Michel's work earns accolades from local and national fans of her cuisine. She has been a James Beard Foundation Award nominee as Outstanding Restaurateur and as Best Chef Southeast numerous times, competing against chefs in major metropolitan areas. Michel is an alumna of the James Beard Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change, a collaborative for chefs who work to improve the world's food systems. Michel and her restaurants are regularly featured in local and national media, such as The New York Times, Southern Living, Garden & Gun, Food Network and Cooking Channel. She was a guest judge on Bravo's Top Chef Kentucky series.
Active in her community, Ouita Michel is a member of Southern Foodways Alliance; James Beard Foundation; Les Dames d'Escoffier; free community supper programs coordinator for Midway Christian Church; board member of FoodChain, a non-profit food incubator in Lexington, Ky., and founder of FEAST, a fund raiser for FoodChain that celebrates women chefs; Hindman Settlement School, which is dedicated to enriching Central Appalachian culture; and is a member of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a statewide citizens group working to improve education for Kentuckians. Recent honors include induction into the Junior Achievement Bluegrass Business Hall of Fame; the Fayette Alliance Agricultural Excellence Award, Midway University Spotlight Award and the Bluegrass Tomorrow Josephine Abercrombie Award, the group's most prestigious honor, given to a person who contributes tirelessly to improve quality of life in the Bluegrass. She, Chris and their daughter, Willa, live in a 200-year-old cabin adjacent to the Holly Hill Inn.