LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 2, 2019) — The accolades for the Commonwealth’s food scene have been rolling in the last several years, and few leaders are as responsible for growing the state’s culinary landscape as University of Kentucky alumna Ouita Michel.
At UK's home football game Saturday, the celebrated chef and restaurateur was recognized for her work as one of the original champions of Kentucky’s local food movement.
A James Beard Foundation Award nominee as Outstanding Restaurateur and Best Chef Southeast, Michel has built a regional restaurant empire that now includes such popular establishments as Zim’s Cafe, Honeywood, Holly Hill Inn, The Midway Bakery, Smithtown Seafood, Wallace Station, Windy Corner Market and Restaurant and Glenn’s Creek Café.
Michel majored in political science at UK College of Arts and Sciences 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 and met her husband, Chris. The two returned to Kentucky in 1993 for their wedding, and opened their first restaurant, Holly Hill Inn in Midway, Kentucky, in 2000 where she became one of the state’s pioneers of using local-sourced products.
The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion three years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" two years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers." We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for four straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.