THE OSCAR PERFORMANCE AT HONEYWOOD: IT'S A WINNER By Sue Finley
Headley Bell and his son Price have long understood how critical it is to let the outside world into Kentucky's Thoroughbred farms; to expose that culture and lifestyle to the general public so that they better understand and appreciate it. As two of the founding members of Horse Country, and perhaps its biggest cheerleaders, the Bells grasp that the more understood and beloved the Bluegrass region's farms and horses are, the better off all industry members will be. So, in a unique promotion the Monday night before the Keeneland April Sale, the Bells launched a concept at Ouita Michel's Honeywood Restaurant to keep their stallion Oscar Performance's name on everyone lips--literally--with the debut of the Oscar Performance hot brownie sundae. The bonus: mention the promotion, bring in the ad from Monday's TDN or a screenshot of it, or a card that the Bells were handing out at Keeneland this week, and the dessert is on them. Bell explained that the idea is an extension of the Horse Country concept to keep the Thoroughbred industry in the forefront of people's minds in the area, and to always associate it with a positive connotation. "This community is all about the horse, and yet for the longest time, we haven't let them be a part of that," said Bell. "Horse Country has changed that. We want people to feel a part of this community and so this is just another thread, through someone like Ouita, who is so highly regarded, to come and share and feel a part of it." Anyone who has ever stopped in at a Mill Ridge consignment for a slice of their traditional Bell family rum cake knows that they love cooking, particularly desserts. "When our kids were growing up, I would crumble up cookies or brownies and stick it in the microwave and then put hot fudge on it that my mother had made, or my wife Nancy had made, and then put coffee ice cream on it," Bell said. "People just loved it. I wondered what I could do to share that, and had the idea of approaching Ouita Michel, who is a Kentucky icon." Michel is the owner and chef of seven Lexington-area restaurants, and brings her locally sourced Kentucky cuisine to Fasig-Tipton during sales, operating the dining rooms and concession stands. Honeywood is one of Michel"s newest ventures, located in the Summit at Fritz Farm, near the intersection of Man o' War Boulevard and Nicholasville Road. Featuring local produce, meat and poultry, and traditional Kentucky foods, it was voted Lexington's favorite new restaurant in 2018 by the Herald-Leader. "Any time you can find a way of incorporating what we're doing with the horse industry, I want to be a part of it because I feel like it's such a big part of our culture here," said Michel. "And as a chef it's hard to figure out how to interface exactly. So when Headley came and had this whole idea for the dessert and just the name of Oscar Performance...I mean, whose going to say no to that?" There was only one problem, she told Bell: they don't cook with a microwave. The Honeywood version is a freshly baked skillet brownie with crumbled toffee baked in. It is served hot, with sides of whipped cream gelato and salted caramel gelato, hot fudge, toasted pecans, crushed peppermint and more whipped cream. It serves four, must be ordered at the same time dinner is ordered, and each person assembles their own to their own taste at the table. TDN International Editor Kelsey Riley and I unselfishly volunteered to do the TDN review on opening night. The restaurant was decorated with Oscar Performance's framed Breeders' Cup saddle towel, and every effort was made to stress the connection between racing and the Oscar Performance dessert. "This decadent dessert is a tribute to local Breeders' Cup champion Oscar Performance," reads the menu, "a world record holder at a mile, Kentucky born, raised and standing stud at Mill Ridge Farm in Fayette County." On opening night, several prominent members of the industry, ad in hand, were in Honeywood trying out the creation, which exceeded all expectations. It was, in short, heaven on earth. For Michel, reminding the community of the role the economic engine of the Thoroughbred industry plays in Lexington is an important part of the picture. "We have so many people who come here from all over the world and all over the country and I don't think the Lexington community understands how many visitors come here to see horses," said Michel. "At Wallace Station (their restaurant in Woodford County) it's only early April, and we've seen 38 license platesfrom different states. That's how many visitors we've had just in the first quarter of the year." "Horse Country and what Mill Ridge is doing is so important to the Thoroughbred industry because it's about reaching a different group of people and that's a lot of the reason why I've opened Honeywood," said Michel. "I want to reach a new generation. I want to show young people these old Kentucky recipes. I want little kids to be eating country ham biscuits and brown beans and cornbread in a more modern setting. It's about bringing my culinary heritage and the culinary heritage of Kentucky forward to a new generation. It's the same thing that Mill Ridge is doing for horse racing. They're trying to engage a whole new generation of kids and young people into the majesty of the horse and what that means for our part of the world here in Kentucky."