NAME: Lee Ann Whippen
KIDS: Britney, 25 and Samantha, 16
OCCUPATION: Chef/Partner Chicago q
FAVORITE CHARITY: St. Judes
The world of BBQ masters is primarily dominated by men, but that didn’t stop Lee Ann Whippen from learning the craft, competing against the best in the country and opening four BBQ restaurants. And did we mention beating Food Network’s Bobby Flay in one of his infamous throw downs? This was all while raising two daughters! Her (amazing!) Chicago restaurant, aptly named Chicago q, serves some of the best BBQ in the city from her competition ribs to bruleed mac n’ cheese and Kobe beef brisket. It’s a perfect place for a date night or an evening with the kids. Lee Ann makes sure she is always around to empower her employees and create a warm and welcoming environment. She tells us about life running a restaurant and how Eminem pumps her up each morning.
What is your backstory?
My Dad, who was born and raised on my Nana’s hog farm in Lexington, Missouri, raised me on authentic BBQ and southern dishes. He got me involved in the Kansas City BBQ where we got our judging certification 20 years ago and began competition BBQ team at the same time. 15 years in hotel food and beverage and my love of BBQ and competing was the perfect marriage to start my own catering/vending company, Wood Chicks BBQ, in 2002 that evolved into opening 4 BBQ restaurants with the latest in Chicago.
Tell us about your typical weekday…
I make sure my daughter gets off to school. Arrive at restaurant in the morning and review OpenTable reservations, private dining events and catering orders to make sure we are prepped accordingly. Work expoditing for lunch and dinner service to make sure all orders are accurate for plating, temperature and presentation. Always try to go on floor to interact with customers and give kitchen tours so the guest can see our state-of-the-art smokers and describe how we make their food and which items come from corresponding station ie. the smoker, grill etc.
How do you protect (and give back to) your community?
I donate my time personally and food for a variety of annual events including St. Judes, March of Dimes (Lead Chef each year), Illinois SOS childrens foundation and Illinois Barbeque Alliance which comes to the aid of people involved in disasters.
Tell us about a “save the day moment” …
Definitely beating Bobby Flay at my 1st of 4 restaurants in Chesapeake, VA in Pulled Pork category which is published in his “Throwdown with Bobby Flay” book.
Who is your Wonder Woman?
My Mom without a doubt…juggling work, taking care of my sister and I (which wasn’t easy!), cooking cleaning and being a best friend with guidance and insight that has lead to both of us being successful women both in work and at home with our families.
What is your super power?
I have to write a hit list with priorities everyday or I would definitely forget things I need to do. It changes throughout the day and looks like a Picasso by the end of the day! Also my iphone so I can set alarms to remind me.
What would you consider your theme song?
Eminem “One Shot/Lose Yourself”… I always play it to get me psyched up to take every opportunity and make it the best I can.
What is your arch nemesis?
Procrastination…always wait until the final deadline which for some reason pressures me and the results are much better for me than overthinking things.
What is in your Wonder Woman power pack?
My iphone, laptop, Mio black cherry energy drink, 2 scrambled eggs from breakfast and a ten pound purse with too many things in it!
Which Superhero do you most identify with and why?
Bionic Woman. ironically my girlfriends and me growing up used to imitate her. She’s strong, smart and can do just about anything.
Who is your supporting cast of characters?
My daughters who encourage and support me each day. Also, every employee that works for me is important to the success of the restaurant from the dishwashers to management. I try to empower them and it filters down to the guests. Happy employees make for a happy environment. I want them to look forward to coming to work each and every day with a smile!
Bump Club and Beyond will be making a donation to St. Judes in honor of Lee Ann! Make sure to check out Chicago q located at 1160 North Dearborn in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood.