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 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 Michel is a member of Slow Food USA; Les Dames d’Escoffier; deacon and free community supper programs coordinator for Midway Christian Church; board member of FoodChain, a non-profit food incubator in Lexington, Ky.; Woodford Forward, a land-use advocacy group; 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.
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 in Lexington.
“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. 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.
After a career in the textbook industry, 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. A fan of all sports, he 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 his wife, Annette, live in Lexington with their children, Gracie and Charlie.
Devin Armstrong, General Manager
Like so many on Ouita Michel’s team, Frankfort (Ky.) native Devin Armstrong began to love the art of cooking while in a grandparent’s kitchen. His grandfather Ernie Cowen was a longtime chef at the Frankfort Country Club. Cowen, who was self-trained, worked as a sous chef under French and German chefs in the ’60s, then led kitchens in Ohio as a chef before returning to Frankfort. It was Cowen who taught Devin how to rock a knife when he was 7 years old.
Devin has worked since he was 14, starting in restaurants, then to Kroger, where he worked during college. In 2009, Devin headed to the West Coast, working mostly on farms. He lived in Northern California for four years and grew to love horticulture and the process of creating food. He returned home to Frankfort and restaurants, cooking and working up to management at Buddy’s Pizza, Wallace Station and now, Windy Corner Market. Devin and his fiancee live just down the road from Windy Corner Market in Lexington.
Sarah Smith, Assistant Manager
Sarah Smith worked at a lot of different jobs before she became part of the Ouita Michel family.
“My first job was as an assistant martial arts instructor when I was 15. After that I did a little bit of everything,” she said. The Nicholasville (Ky.) native spent time working at a shoe store, in fast food, at a gas station, and as a secretary at Good Samaritan Hospital. She worked as a registered nurse aide for several years, until 2014 when injuries made it difficult to continue the physical demands of that work.
“Four months after leaving healthcare I began working for Ouita at Smithtown (Seafood), and the rest is history,” Sarah said.
“I enjoy working at Windy Corner because both staff and customers feel like an extended family. It's a relaxed atmosphere in the restaurant and it's fun getting to know our regular customers and learning their story.”