The James Beard Foundation recently announced its Restaurant and Chef Awards semifinalists for 2020 and Ouita Michel is among the semifinalists for Outstanding Restaurateur.
This is her second nomination for Restaurateur of the Year, and her seventh nomination in total for Beard awards. She has been nominated several times as Best Chef Southeast.
Michel is the owner of Ouita Michel Family of Restaurants, which features 10 restaurants including Holly Hill Inn, Honeywood, The Midway Bakery and Cafe, Smithtown Seafood, Wallace Station, Windy Corner Market, Thirsty Fox and Zim’s Cafe. She also owns Holly Hill Events in Lexington and Glenn’s Creek Cafe at Woodford Reserve Distillery, where she is the chef-in-residence.
To be nominated for the Outstanding Restaurateur Award, a semifinalist is judged as a working restaurateur who sets high national standards in restaurant operations and entrepreneurship, according to a news release. Candidates must have been in the restaurant business for at least 10 years.
In 2010, Michel was one of the James Beard celebrity chefs who gathered to cook alongside the highest caliber local chefs for “Cookin’ in the Bluegrass,” as part of the James Beard Celebrity Chef Series for the World Equestrian Games.
She was among the Lexington chefs to get grilled in a searing exposé known as The Fridges of Fayette County Part Deux, in addition to her mention in Lexington’s 2015 Food Year in Review for her commitment to locally grown food.
In 2018, Michel was congratulated for reaching the lifetime cap on state reimbursements for local food purchases through the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s “Buy Local” program. Later that year, Michel participated in Season 16 of Top Chef as a guest judge before appearing at Lexington’s inaugural Railbird festival on the Sip & Savor stage in 2019.
This year, the James Beard Foundation is focusing on geographic diversity in their nominees and winners. According to the Foundation, the changes are meant to address “changing population data, restaurant demographics, and culinary trends.”
Michel wasn’t the only Kentucky native semifinalist. Annie Pettry of Decca in Louisville was nominated for Best Chef Southeast while Drew Kulsveen of Willett Distillery in Bardstown received a nomination for Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional.
After the judges and committee members vote, the list of nominees will drop down to five finalists per category and announced on Wednesday, March 25. Winners will then be announced during the James Beard Awards Gala in Chicago on Monday, May 4.
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