Chef Holly Smith of Cafe Juanita - Biography

Kirkland, WA

January 2011

Holly Smith grew up in Monkton, Maryland, where she received her inspiration for cooking from her mother, who is still the best cook she knows. Originally, Holly pursued a political science degree from Colby College, but gave up that course of study in 1987 to move to Boston to receive restaurant training.

In 1989, Holly took a break from working and set-off with her backpack for points far away, which included tours of Australia and Fiji.

Upon her return in 1990, Holly enrolled in the Baltimore International Culinary College. Holly completed an externship in Ireland with Master Chef Peter Timmons as one of her final courses at BICC. This experience gave her a firm foundation in technique and classical cuisine. Upon graduation, Holly worked for two years as a line cook for the Milton Inn, in Sparks, Maryland. During her tenure, wine guru Robert Parker marked the restaurant as one of his “Most Memorable Meals” in 1991 and 1992.

In 1993, Holly moved to Seattle with her husband Michael, who was enrolled in graduate school, and began her Seattle culinary career at Place Pigalle in the Pike Place Market. After a brief cooking term there, she accepted a position with Tom Douglas at the Dahlia Lounge where she was sous chef for nearly four years.

Opening her own restaurant was a lifelong dream and to that end, she began the preparation, planning and development of a restaurant business plan. Simultaneously, Chef Tamara Murphy encouraged Holly to be a part of the opening of her notable restaurant, Brasa, and she agreed to take part as chef de cuisine at Brasa for its first year. She left when the opportunity to acquire Cafe Juanita became available.

After a simple remodel and hiring of staff, Holly launched Cafe Juanita in April of 2000. She opened with an adventurous menu, a flourishing garden, and updated surroundings in this charming Kirkland house. Her passion for northern Italian cuisine continues to bring her rave reviews from local and national media.

Holly and Cafe Juanita have received much local and national recognition. In 2008, she received the James Beard Best Chef Northwest award and have continued to rise since then, with multiple national nominations in many categories from the James Beard Foundation including Outstanding Chef US, Outstanding Restaurant US, Outstanding Service US, and Outstanding Pastry Chef US.