2024 Green Business Innovation Forum Keynote Speaker: Ouita Michel

Chef Ouita Michel and her husband Chris Michel opened the Holly Hill Inn in 2001 in Midway, Ky. as a fine dining restaurant featuring a seasonal prix fixe menu and award-winning wine list.

Their culinary family has since expanded to include seven restaurants, a bakery, and an events business; all in central Kentucky. In 2021 Chef Michel unified her businesses under the new banner of Holly Hill and Co., celebrating Kentucky food culture, agriculture and the arts.

Chef Michel holds degrees from the University of Kentucky and the Culinary Institute of America. As an undergrad at UK, she won the national debate championship; later she was class valedictorian at the CIA’s Hyde Park, NY campus, which is where she met her husband Chris.

Chef Michel has received six nominations from the James Beard Foundation for Best Chef Southeast and two for Outstanding Restaurateur. She is an alumna of the James Beard Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change, a collaborative effort to change the world’s food systems.

In 2023, the US State Department named Chef Michel to its American Culinary Corps, a diplomatic culinary partnership with the James Beard Foundation. Chef Michel will be a Culinary Ambassador, helping to advance the Corps’ mission of utilizing food, hospitality and the dining experience to bridge cultures and forge friendships worldwide.

She is a founding and current board member of FoodChain, a nonprofit in the heart of Lexington, Ky., improving community access to fresh food through education, engagement and the working example of a sustainable food system. Chef Michel also serves on the board of The Hindman Settlement School, dedicated to bettering life in Central Appalachia by addressing critical issues such as literacy, food insecurity and access to the arts. She is a member of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a citizens’ advocacy group for Kentucky’s public schoolchildren and their families; and an elder at Midway Christian Church.

A 2020 inductee of the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame, and the Junior Achievement Bluegrass Business Hall of Fame, Chef Michel has received the Fayette Alliance Agricultural Excellence Award; the Midway University Spotlight Award; and the Bluegrass Tomorrow Josephine Abercrombie Award, its most prestigious honor, given in recognition of those who work tirelessly to improve quality of life in the Bluegrass.

In 2021, Chef Michel published her first cookbook, Just A Few Miles South: Timeless Recipes from Our Favorite Places. According to Food & Wine, “This new compendium of recipes from across her empire celebrates the region’s historic dishes while lovingly casting a spotlight on the people who are making dishes like Bourbon Banh Mi and a Wallace Cubano into new Kentucky classics.”

Her Holly Hill restaurants are often featured in media such as The New York Times, Southern Living, Garden & Gun, CBS This Morning, Food Network and Cooking Channel. In 2019, Chef Michel served as a guest judge on Bravo’s Top Chef Kentucky series, which she was instrumental in bringing to the state.

Chef Michel, her husband Chris, and their daughter Willa live in a 200-year-old cabin beside the Holly Hill Inn. Having been at the stove for over 35 years, Chef Michel’s next project, now underway, is launching a new generation of chefs and other culinary professionals to continue and share her legacy of love for Kentucky food and farmers.