This week, we're rolling out a few healthy recipes to help jumpstart your spring wellness kick during our series, The Wellness Experience. Whether battling it out in the kitchen on a reality TV show or sharing her culinary creations on social media, Omi Hopper, aka CookingConOmi, is winning the hearts of foodies everywhere. With almost 1 million followers on social media, Hopper has built her brand from the ground up, sharing her Puerto Rican traditions and family recipes with the world.
As a contestant on the hit Fox competition series Next Level Chef with chef Gordon Ramsay, Hopper is taking her culinary skills to the next level. But her focus isn't just on delicious food. As a busy wife and mother of four, she understands the importance of wellness and healthy eating. EBONY spoke with Hopper about her approach to cooking, her journey from social media to TV and how she uses food to connect with her family.
EBONY: What inspired you to start Cooking Con Omi, and how has it evolved since its inception in early 2020?
Omi Hopper: At the beginning of the pandemic, I genuinely just wanted to have that human connection and interaction as a way to keep myself sane. I started showcasing what I was doing at home: cooking three meals a day. Once things began to open up, I was still doing the videos because they were doing so well and I could connect with many people over my cooking.
Can you tell us about your journey from blowing up on TikTok as a cooking star to becoming a contestant on Next Level Chef with Gordon Ramsay?
After growing a following on TikTok, I started having brands calling and wanting to collaborate, along with other opportunities and doors opening. I don't say yes to everything, There was an opportunity that came to me in April 2020 to actually be a part of a show on another major network, and I turned it down because I didn't like how I would be represented.
I had to remain authentic to myself, especially since I am a role model for my four boys. Both my husband and I need to set a good example for them by not portraying a false image of ourselves. It was tough to pass up. But after a few months, I was invited to join the Next Level Chef with Gordon Ramsay, which was an incredible opportunity. It was a no-brainer to say yes. It's been an incredible experience and opportunity, and I'm so happy it happened.
What inspired your strong connection to cooking?
I grew up in a family where there was not a day that I didn't come home to a home-cooked meal. And I always knew that I was very fortunate in that way because that was not everybody's story. As a matter of fact, I used to have a lot of friends who would come after school to my house because it was always my mom who would always cook the best food. So I wanted to make sure that I do the same for my boys.
How do you balance creating delicious and flavorful meals with healthy and nutritious ingredients?
For me, the quality of the ingredients is crucial. Instead of using canned beans, I prefer to prepare them from scratch, giving me more control over the vegetables and seasoning used in the recipe. In Puerto Rican cuisine, we have unique seasoning blends such as sazon, adobo and sofrito that add depth and flavor to the dishes. Incorporating vegetables such as carrots, garlic, and peppers helps balance the meal and create a more well-rounded dish.
How do you incorporate your heritage and traditions into your cooking, and why is it important?
Growing up, I was surrounded by great role models in the kitchen. I have fond memories of lively parties where we would dance, taste each other's food, and celebrate together. As I grew older, I realized how impactful those experiences were and how they left a lasting imprint on me. Now that I have my own family, I understand that I am their only connection to those memories and traditions, and it's up to me to keep them alive.
What message do you hope to convey through your cooking and your platform?
It's joy. I want people to watch a video and feel like they're home. I want them to feel like they're back at their grandmother's house or spending time with loved ones. It's important to me that people learn something new from my videos and that they feel comfortable sharing their own family recipes. I don't believe in keeping recipes a secret because they become lost with time. Instead, I want to be the bridge that connects generations and makes cooking easy, fun, and shareable for everyone.
Check out Chef Omi's flavorful arroz con gandules and mofongo recipes below. Your taste buds will thank you.
Chef Omi's Arroz con Gandules
Chef Omi's Arroz con Gandules
- 3 cups medium-grain rice
- 3 cups water
- 1 can gandules (pigeon peas) drained
- 1/2 cup cured salted pork chopped
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup Sofrito
- 6 oz tomato sauce
- 1 packet sazon culantro y achiote
- 10 whole Spanish olives
- 1 tsp cumin
- salt for taste
- Start by adding the vegetable oil to the caldero or large pot and set the stove heat to medium. Toss in your chopped cured salted pork into the pot and cook until it is fried. Remove the cured salted pork and set aside but keep the grease in the caldero.
- Next, add your sofrito, tomato sauce, sazon culantro y achiote, cumin, spanish olives, and gandules to the caldero. Cook and stir the mixture for about 3 to 4 minutes. In addition, add your water and bring to a boil. Rinse your medium-grain rice to remove starch.
- Lastly, add your medium grain rice and the fried cured salted pork and stir everything gently. Place a sheet of foil covering the top opening of the caldero and cover it with lid. Cook the Puerto Rican rice for 30 minutes over medium heat without opening the lid at all. Fluff rice and add salt for personal taste.
- 4 green plantains
- 1lb of chicharrón (crunchy pork skin)
- 3 garlic cloves, mashed
- 4 teaspoons of olive oil
- 1 stick of butter
- 2 cups frying oil
- Peel the plantains, cut them into 1 1/2-inch slices, and fry them by putting them in the hot skillet with oil.
- Fry them for about 7-8 minutes at medium-low heat or until they turn light brown. Make sure to turn them. Do not brown them too much, so they are easy to mash. Stick a fork in them to check if they are done.
- Remove them and mash them on a mortar. Add butter, mashed garlic, and pieces of chicharrón.
- Once you have mashed all the plantains, mold them into the shape of a half sphere using your hands or a container. Serve hot with chicken broth or your favorite meat.