Hearing words like “mofongo” on primetime television is exciting and new and it’s because of Latina chefs like Omi Hopper that are making that visibility happen. Hopper, a Puerto Rico native, is a former makeup artist turned social media cooking sensation that landed a gig on Gordon Ramsay’s cooking competition show Next Level Chef. It was during the lockdown in 2020 that she turned to her love of the island’s cuisine and began sharing it across her TikTok and Instagram where she now has more than 573K and 329K followers, respectively.
It was then that the extroverted mom of four suddenly found herself at home with little to sate her creative appetite. Just prior to the start of the pandemic, she had been home caring for her husband after a knee surgery, so when the shelter-in-place orders went into effect across much of the US, she was ready to go back. But she had no idea how long it would be before she’d return to some form of normalcy. She shut down her studio, weddings she had booked were canceled, and she worked as an educational manager at Sephora which also shut down.
“I was really losing my marbles and I just wanted to find a way to connect with the outside world and find a way to keep myself sane,” she tells HipLatina. So one day in March 2020 she decided to record herself cooking up a pot of sancocho (meat and root vegetable stew) and post it. “I was like, ‘I’m just going to share what I’m cooking because it seems to be the only thing I’m doing these days.”
From there, it didn’t take long for people to fall in love with her infectious personality. Hopper already had a bit of a following on Instagram and YouTube thanks to her skills with a makeup brush, but things really exploded when she entered the food scene, perhaps in part due to the fact that at the time, a lot of people were turning to the kitchens to avoid crowded restaurants and use of some of their newfound spare time. Now — just three years later — “Cooking Con Omi” has over 62,000 subscribers on YouTube — to call it a career pivot is an understatement.
“I had a little bit of experience with creating video because of my tutorials that I used to do for makeup, so it was easy for me to transition into tutorials cooking food,” Hopper says. “And so, I did that, and I’m like, ‘so now if I can master the one-minute situation, let’s see what happens.” She recalls that once that happened the first of her cooking videos to go viral was of her making her “sofrito fresquesito.” Yes, her first brush with viral fame came from the most basic element of Puerto Rican cuisine. Clearly, the audience was there.
Hopper explains that in the video, she demonstrated how she uses the juice from the sofrito (a base of peppers and herbs), to make mojo (a Puerto Rican garlic sauce), and people were instantly intrigued. She got a ton of questions and comments about her recipe, and that was all it took.
“Every time I would go to sleep, I would lay down next to me husband, and I’m like, ‘babe, I think I got 10,000 followers. I think I got 20,000 followers. Oh my god! I got 50,000 followers,’ and so like, it just kept growing,” she says.
But Hopper hasn’t just gained attention from the general public. Earlier this year, she announced that she would be a contestant on Season 2 of Next Level Chef on Fox, hosted by Ramsay who is a Michelin-starred chef and reality food competition guru. And not only has she been a standout contestant despite not always having the Puerto Rican ingredients she’s used to cooking on set, she’s continued to survive elimination after elimination.
With no official chef credentials, Hopper is making a name for herself in the food world, and in the process, giving Puerto Ricans — particularly those a part of the diaspora — the kind of representation we rarely see on not just food television, but television in general. Regardless of the challenges presented to her and the rest of her team on Next Level Chef, she brings Puerto Rican flavors and cooking methods to the forefront, never sacrificing who she is. Boricuas known how incredible our food is, and now thanks to Hopper, millions of other Americans do too.
“I love the kitchen. I’ve always loved creating food. I love the feeling that gives for someone else to try my food,” Hopper says. But she really doesn’t have to, the Next Level Chef audience and her social media followers can tell.
The amount of support Hopper has received from the Puerto Rican community and the Latinx community as a whole is evident in not just her success but the daily comments across her platforms “You have the whole weight of your community behind you, mama! We are so are proud of you beyond words!” fellow Puerto Rican influencer, Rebeca Huffman wrote on a post related to Next Level Chef.
“I look forward to the show every week to see you shine ✨ #teamOmiinthehouse🇵🇷 Gracias por tú bella representación de nuestra bella isla 🇵🇷 keep shining like a diamond ♦️ Muchas Bendiciones ❤️,” commented Instagram user, @urknown_queen71, on another Instagram post.
Hundreds if not thousands of similar comments can be seen across Hopper’s social media pages, and we’d like to think it’s not just because of her prowess in the kitchen, but because she makes people — Latinxs in particular — feel seen. Her pride echoes what’s inside so many of us, and now as a veritable TV star, she’s giving America a taste of why exactly we are so passionate about our cuisine and why it’s a crucial part of who we are. Through her platform she’s educating the masses (pernil 101, pasteles 101 etc) and through her TV appearance she’s introducing new audiences to what it means to cook with sazón.
“I started this platform as a way to entertain myself and keep busy during a pandemic. But the purpose of educating about my culture and cuisine is what has kept me,” she recently shared on Instagram.
Next Level Chef air Thursdays at 8/7c on FOX