Campus News

UK Recognizes Alum Ouita Michel’s Culinary Leadership

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, HoneywoodHolly Hill InnThe Midway BakerySmithtown SeafoodWallace StationWindy 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.

Photo of UK alum Ouita Michel during recognition at Kroger Field
At UK's home football game Saturday, celebrated chef, restaurateur and UK alumna Ouita Michel was recognized for her work as one of the original champions of Kentucky’s local food movement. Kelley Bozeman | UK Photo.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.