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 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 Michel is chef-in-residence and operates Glenn’s Creek Café and Glenn’s Creek Catering. Her latest restaurant, Honeywood, opens in Spring 2017 at the Summit in Fritz Farm development in Lexington.
Her restaurants have purchased more than $2 million of Kentucky-grown meats, dairy products, fruits and vegetables over the last 16 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. Her restaurants are regularly featured in local and national media, such as CBS This Morning, 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., 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.
From cooking tortillas in family-friendly eateries to poaching halibut in butter at a 3-star Michelin restaurant, Josh Smouse discovered how good restaurants become great.
“Restaurants that value customer service, great food and genuine hospitality are where I want to be,” Smouse said. “That’s why I’m working with Ouita.”
Bluegrass restaurateur Ouita Michel hired Smouse as executive chef at Honeywood, her newest restaurant, which will open Spring 2017 at The Summit at Fritz Farm in Lexington.
Why did Michel choose Smouse to head Honeywood? Because he makes great food.
"Josh wants his guests to be happy and feel good when they eat his food," Ouita said. "Making people happy is what it's all about.”
Smouse earned his culinary degree at Sullivan University. He has cooked in and managed kitchens at restaurants in Chicago, Indiana, Louisville and Bardstown over the last 15 years. His first stint at Holly Hill with Ouita was after he earned an accounting degree at the University of Kentucky. He worked full time for the state auditor and cooked weekends at Holly Hill. He realized his heart was in the kitchen.
The food that will be served at Honeywood will be fresh, locally sourced when possible, and creatively prepared but with a strong nod to Kentucky’s food traditions.
For example, Honeywood will use cast iron skillets from Michel’s friend Jim Nance and sear all steaks in the 100-year-old cast iron with duck fat.
Part of Smouse’s philosophy is cooking to serve the the customer but also the food. For example, his goal with the Honeywood steak entree is to "serve the beef," in that the garnishes — potatoes roasted in duck fat, braised shallots, preserved lemon, roasted garlic and herb butter— complement the beef through texture or flavor.
Smouse has been touring several Kentucky Proud farms, finding that the farmers are exceeding his expectations in the vegetables, fruits and meats they produce.
“Beautiful product and passionate purveyors make my job so much easier,” Smouse said. “I think people are going to love Honeywood.”
Smouse lives in Midway with his wife, Megan Penrod, and puppy, Johnny.