Since 2001, when Ouita Michel and her husband, Chris, opened their flagship Holly Hill Inn in Midway, Kentucky, she has made locally grown ingredients a priority in her cuisine. Michel’s restaurants have bought $3 million of Kentucky-grown meats, dairy and produce. She has been a James Beard Foundation Award nominee numerous times; her most recent nomination was in 2020 for Outstanding Restaurateur. Michel and her restaurants are regularly featured in media such as The New York Times, Southern Living, Garden & Gun, Food Network and Cooking Channel. She was a guest judge on Season 16 of Bravo’s Top Chef.
Active in her community, 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 nonprofit food incubator in Lexington; and founder of FEAST, a fundraiser for FoodChain that celebrates women chefs. In addition, she is board member of 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 and the Bluegrass Tomorrow Josephine Abercrombie Award, given to a person who contributes tirelessly to improve quality of life in the Bluegrass.
Michel majored in political science at UK and was a member of the debate team, honors program (now Lewis Honors College) and the first class of Gaines Fellows. In 1986, she became only the second woman to win a national debate championship. After finishing her studies at UK, Michel moved to New York, where she graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.