Oak + Char
A native Midwesterner, Joe Heppe spent his Wisconsin childhood like most other young boys – playing sports, breaking curfew and as a teen, chasing girls; it wasn’t until college (UW Milwaukee) that Heppe began thinking about pursuing a culinary career. While obtaining his B.A. in English, Heppe was cooking at an area fine dining restaurant, and by the age of 25, had worked his way up to Executive Chef. At this point, he decided to focus his sights on making a career in the kitchen, so he buckled down, worked as much as he could, and in his free time, read every cookbook he could get his hands on. Worn-in favorites include The French Laundry Cookbook (Thomas Keller), Think Like A Chef (Tom Colicchio), anything by the revered James Peterson, and recently, Le Pigeon (Gabriel Rucker).
Staying within the restaurant’s family, his next position had him helming their catering division, and over the next two years, Heppe oversaw events ranging from intimate dinners to 1200-person galas. In 2007, he moved to Chicago, accepting a position as chef de cuisine at Vermilion, where he also served as assistant general manager, learning front-of-house skills to complement back-of-house - making him a double-threat in the industry. Working under Maneet Chauhan, a mentor who has since gone on to become a well-respected restaurateur, television personality and cookbook author, Heppe continued to hone his skills and broaden his culinary horizon. In 2009, the duo worked several high profile events around the country, including competing together on Iron Chef America, and cooking at the James Beard Foundation’s “Chefs’ Night Out” event. Later that year, Heppe accepted the Executive Sous Chef position at the extremely popular Mercat a la Planxa, working under the highly esteemed Jose Garces. In 2012, Heppe joined the team at the lively, high-volume Untitled, where under his leadership, the restaurant earned a Bib Gourmand designation from The Michelin Guide, and Heppe was invited to cook at Aspen Food & Wine in summer 2013. Heppe joined forces with some former Untitled alumni to open Oak + Char in autumn 2014.
Heppe’s philosophy is to “keep your head down and do the work” and describes his style as a marriage of classic and rustic, globally influenced with a Midwestern sensibility. Heppe finds inspiration every day in the restaurant, and loves how cooking allows people of different cultures to connect through food. He and his wife live in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago.