Earlier this year Chef Ouita Michel was named a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation Outstanding Restaurateur award. Michel did not advance to the short list of finalists, but it does not diminish the honor of recognition

The finalists were named on May 4, “on the same day as the awards were to be presented in a gala ceremony in Chicago, an event that was postponed due to the coronavirus … The awards, which have been presented since 1990, are highly regarded in the industry and recognize excellence among independent operators in food, drink, service, restaurant design and more.”

Retroactive congratulations are in order, but this is was not the original reason for placing the spotlight on Chef Michel and her family of eateries.

Rather, it’s the “Gourmicnic” – the Gourmet Picnic, a term* that you’ll find described in the following message detailing reopening procedures at Holly Hill Inn, the measured tone of which goes a long way toward explaining why Chef Ouita Michel was named a 2020 semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation Outstanding Restaurateur award. Two other words spring to mind: passion and principle. 

A message about reopening Holly Hill from Ouita Michel:
Dear friends,
It’s Memorial Day weekend. There have been times the past couple months I wasn’t sure we’d make it through the whirlwind. One minute, I’ve been a basket case. Then channeling my inner She-Ra the next. Owning and operating a bunch of restaurants is challenging in the best of times. But I’m deeply proud of how our restaurants have pivoted, innovated, cleaned, cooked, worried and practiced social isolation.
Our community in central Kentucky has supported us beyond words. Not just financially with online gratuities, generous tips and lots of orders, but emotionally with cards, letters, encouraging emails, Facebook posts and prayers. Your kindness has made all the difference. Thank you for all that you have done to support our restaurant family.
I wanted to let you know about our plans for reopening.
As we approach the next phase of our operation and step into the new world of safe social distancing, our family of restaurants is going to take it nice and slow. We want to make sure we can keep our guests safe and healthy when they dine with us. We also want to make sure our employees can be healthy at work, no matter what job they fulfill.
Our strategy for opening is to go step by step, expanding our operations gradually. We will make sure our staff feels comfortable with our health and safety guidelines and that we are mastering all the sanitation requirements. You, as an inside or outside customer, will be a vital part of making that experience safe for each other and our staff. We ask that you adopt respectful and safe practices when you are with us.
We will continue to prioritize our curbside service. It will expand to include Honeywood and Windy Corner Market. I’m aware and understand that many of you are not ready to return to eating at restaurants. Please know that even as we begin to allow inside and outside seating at some locations, our commitment to first-class curbside pickup will remain to accommodate all our loyal customers. It has been a lifeline and we’ve grown to love it!
Regarding Holly Hill Inn specifically: Online ordering for curbside pickup only at Holly Hill at this time. Dinners, wine and cocktails will be brought to your car or set on a table for you to pick up as we have been doing the past eight weeks.
No indoor dining, but starting this weekend, you can take your curbside order to a table on the Holly Hill front porch or out in the yard as space is available. You may tailgate at your car or sit out under the trees.
The Holly Hill service staff will remain physically distant and there will be no outdoor table service yet. You may step inside the restaurant side door to use the restroom, one person at a time with a mask.
Health guidelines do not allow the use of cloth napkins or tablecloths. So we’re coining a new term “Gourmicnic” – the Gourmet Picnic. We will offer paper napkins and plastic, sealed utensils, and ice to use with plastic cups. You are welcome to bring your own wine glasses and silverware.
Believe me, we want to come roaring back. But I am concerned that rushing may cause us to make mistakes. And mistakes in these times could have severe consequences.
We appreciate your patience and your support. This experience has taught me to pay attention to my intuition. This slow and steady approach is where it’s leading me.
Sincerely,
Ouita

* An admittedly cursory Google search yields only one other previous instance of “gour-micnic” on the internet: the Redlands Conservancy, circa 2018.