Ouita Michel, Owner
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 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. 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 and Restaurant and Smithtown Seafood, in Lexington; The Midway Bakery, Midway; and Woodford Reserve Distillery outside Versailles, Ky., where Michel is chef-in-residence and operates Glenn’s Creek Café and Glenn’s Creek Catering. Her latest restaurants, Honeywood, and Smithtown at the Summit, opened in 2017 at the Summit at Fritz Farm development in Lexington. Michel opened her eighth restaurant, Zim’s Cafe and The Thirsty Fox, in downtown Lexington’s renovated courthouse in November, 2018.
Her restaurants have purchased almost $3 million of Kentucky-grown meats, dairy products, fruits and vegetables over the last 17 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. Bourbon aficionados will find 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. 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.
Active in her community, Ouita Michel is a member of Slow Food USA; 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.; 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 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.
Sean Willoughby, Chef
Windy Corner Market chef Sean Willoughby developed his cooking skills around meats: prime beef in Georgia steakhouses, fresh lobster in Virginia seafood joints and links and patties at Bob Evans. A two-year stint at a la Lucie, a now-closed fine dining restaurant in Lexington, fueled Sean’s culinary imagination, and not just with meats. “Working at Lucie’s also showed me that you can have a great effect on someone’s day just by doing a little something extra to make a meal special,” Sean said.
But Sean prefers the high volume and quick pace of a fast casual restaurant like Windy Corner Market, where he’s worked since 2013.
Sean also likes working at Windy Corner because the kitchen staff has creative freedom, and they get to use local ingredients, such as meat. “I like Stone Cross Farm (burgers, pork, bacon, sausage) because they provide a great product that is reasonably priced, and the farm’s owners will go out of their way to ensure customer satisfaction.”
Nancy Allen, General Manager
If you’ve visited Windy Corner Market, chances are you have met Nancy Allen. Her warm, welcoming smile lights up the dining room as she greets our guests and oversees the operations of the restaurant. She joined the Windy Corner team in 2016 and quickly advanced into a management position because of her passion and experience in hospitality. She became our general manager in January 2019.
Nancy also has a passion for cooking, thanks to her Grandma Wiseman, who encouraged her to try her hand at new things. “Some of my earliest memories are of cooking breakfast on Saturday mornings with Grandma in her Lexington kitchen. I loved making apple pies with her, too, because we got to visit while we worked and then eat the delicious treats we prepared. That’s a great day,” Nancy said.
Nancy is enthusiastic about her job because she gets to meet interesting people from all over the world, have fun working with a great team, and share her knowledge of the Bluegrass region with visitors looking for travel or tourism advice.
She and her husband, Michael, share their Winchester home with their Sheltie, Hobie, and their cats, June and July. They enjoy traveling and shopping, particularly in Asheville, N.C., and Lexington, Va.
Victoria Pittman, Sous Chef
Victoria has been in a kitchen for as long as she can remember, learning recipes and techniques from her mother and grandparents as a child, planting the seeds and developing a passion for cooking that has taken her from Fazoli’s to Saint Joseph Hospital, and now to Windy Corner Market.
Vic joined the culinary team at Windy Corner as a prep cook three years ago and quickly moved up the ranks to sous chef. Although her home base is Windy Corner, Vic enjoys working at other locations in the Ouita Michel Family of Restaurants. “I like learning new recipes and trying new dishes and I get those opportunities when I’m at Wallace Station and Fasig-Tipton,” she said.
One of her favorite days at work began like any other, with morning kitchen prep, getting ready for a busy weekend, but quickly changed when Channing Tatum and his film crew dropped by for breakfast while on a promotional tour for an upcoming film. When the crew discovered it was Vic’s birthday, Channing gave the Harley Davidson motorcycle he was riding to her as a birthday present. Needless to say, Vic, the staff and the guests were all amazed and delighted by the events of the day.
Vic lives in downtown Lexington with her best friend and lots of houseplants.