Ouita Michel, Owner
Chef Ouita Michel has always made locally grown ingredients a priority in her cuisine. That’s why it’s 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 we 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. Ouita’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 Wallace Station Deli just outside Midway; Windy Corner Market and Restaurant, and Smithtown Seafood, both in Lexington; The Midway Bakery, Midway; and Woodford Reserve Distillery outside Versailles, Ky., where Ouita is chef-in-residence and operates Glenn’s Creek Café and Glenn’s Creek Catering. Her latest restaurants include Honeywood and Smithtown at the Summit, opened in 2017 at the Summit at Fritz Farm development in Lexington. In November 2018, Michel opened her eighth restaurant and bar, Zim’s Cafe and The Thirsty Fox, in downtown Lexington’s beautifully renovated courthouse.
Her restaurants have purchased more than $2 million of Kentucky-grown meats, dairy products, fruits and vegetables over the last 15 years. Her reputation and commitment to sustainability have earned speaking invitations and awards from local, regional and national organizations.
Chef Ouita’s work earns accolades from local and national fans of her cuisine. Bourbon aficionados will find all her restaurants along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail — watch for Bourbon in some of the menus! 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. Her restaurants are regularly featured in local and national media, such as USA Today, Wine Spectator, Garden & Gun, Southern Living and The New York Times.
Ouita and Chris are graduates of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. Active in her community, Ouita is a member of Slow Food USA; Les Dames d’Escoffier; congregational coordinator of Kids in the Kitchen and free community supper programs for Midway Christian Church; board member of FoodChain, a non-profit food incubator in Lexington, Ky., and Woodford Forward, a land-use advocacy group; and is a member of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a statewide citizens group working to improve education for Kentuckians. Recent honors include the Fayette Alliance Agricultural Excellence 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 with an expansive garden adjacent to the Holly Hill Inn.
Frank Bickel, General Manager
Frank’s food service career began in 1976 working for his uncle and cousin at the neon-marked house of cheap eats Burger and Shake on New Circle Road.
“I was ready to make fries or shakes, but my uncle pointed me to the garbage can. ‘Can’t do anything on the inside unless you can keep the outside clean,’ he said.”
In August 1983, the avid sports fan moved to Los Angeles to be near the 1984 Olympic Games and lived with high school and college friends. While there, Frank worked several food-service jobs on the West Coast, including a gig with a cousin’s catering business. Cheers Catering provided food for awards shows and movie premieres such as Black Hawk Down, Snow Dogs and the Country Music Awards.
Frank eventually left food service and spent 15 years on the road in the textbook brokering industry.
After the loss of his first wife to breast cancer, he returned to Lexington and reconnected with a former girlfriend, Annette Jett, who was a caterer. They married and together operated Annette’s Catering and Annette’s Casual Cafe and Bakery, which has since closed. Frank joined Ouita Michel’s team in 2010 as manager of the newly opened Windy Corner.
Customers who want to talk sports should introduce themselves to Frank. Fan of all sports, he particularly favors the NFL, track and field and the University of Kentucky. He’s a horse racing fan and has been to numerous Kentucky Derbys and visited many of the nation’s storied tracks, including Arlington, Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Saratoga. He’s not just a spectator. “I also like to throw a ball, swim, dive, shoot hoops — I like the play time,” Frank said.
Frank and Annette have two children, Gracie and Charlie. They live in Lexington. Gracie was born with agenesis of the corpus callosum, where the bridge between the two hemispheres of the brain is either missing or incomplete. The lobes therefore cannot communicate with one another. Gracie’s ACC was discovered in utero. Thanks to therapy from Kentucky’s First Steps program, public school and private sources, she is walking and talking and continues to thrive.
What sports will Gracie and Charlie play? “Charlie’s mentioned basketball and golf. Gracie says she wants to run. She’s got a fast walk. She’s got her jumping down pretty good — maybe she’ll be a track girl.”