When it comes to Houston’s culinary scene, few things are as unifying and border-transcending as the love of food and the stories that come with it. Chef Ope Amosu is a young trailblazer who has embarked on a journey to craft an immersive experience that pays homage to his roots while igniting the taste buds of a whole community.
As a child of Nigerian immigrants, Ope grew up surrounded by the aromas of West African delicacies and the rhythmic cadence of family gatherings. These gatherings were more than just culinary feasts; they were a celebration of tradition, an education in customs, and a lesson in the profound role food plays in uniting communities.
That is what motivated the birth of his brick-and-mortar “fast-casual” restaurant ChòpnBlọk located within the heart of Post Houston’s food hall. Here, Amosu meticulously curates an experience that seamlessly blends the flavors of his heritage with a contemporary twist.
Each dish is a harmonious symphony of tradition and innovation, a testament to Amosu’s dedication to preserving the essence of West African cuisine while introducing it to new audiences.
The Defender chopped it up with Amosu to talk all things ChòpnBlọk.
Defender: Talk about your journey that inspired the launch of ChòpnBlọk .
Amosu : I grew up in Houston, which is home to the largest Nigerian and West African community in the country. My culture and heritage were always reinforced. I was born in England and made my way to Houston at the age of four. Throughout my life I dealt with that duality complex of having certain expectations and essentially with the way of life at home and then being with the rest of society. I had to adapt. That’s what shaped me until this point.
I’ve had a few different experiences as I got older, both leaving for college and then after I graduated business school, traveling and living in different parts of the world. I noticed that it got harder to get access to the culture that I grew up loving. For me, it was just a question of why does that have to be the case? Food has always been a big part of my life. It’s a way my family always fellowship. With my business background, I knew one way to be able to share the story of our culture and language that everyone can appreciate is good food and good beats. That’s when the idea of ChòpnBlọk came to mind in 2017, and I never looked back. I kept my corporate career until the launch of the restaurant in 2021.
Defender: Let’s talk about your signature dishes. Where did you come up with such creative concepts to staple Nigerian dishes?
Amosu : I started tapping into my networks and asking to understand which auntie or mama makes the best version of this specific dish in your home country. That’s who I wanted to truly learn from. I would learn the fundamental recipes and techniques to maintain the authenticity in each dish. But then I also knew that God gifted me with a unique perspective. I wanted to take the creativity that I have and reimagine the recipe. So, my Trad [Traditional] Bowls are like the ultimate party starter pack. The party jollof, with the dodo [plantain], and the chicken. That was my go-to. A big measure of the food is how it can hit on some of those staples. I want people to recognize it, but I also wanted to make sure I was able to capture the story and the narrative.
Defender: As a young African man, how important is diversity and inclusion in the food industry?
Amosu : It’s a very diverse space, but I also think sometimes the spotlight is limited to certain styles of cuisine or in some cases, certain styles of chefs. Representation is key. It’s being able to own your narrative. The beauty of diversity is truly being able to bring people from different backgrounds into the conversation. We appreciate the traditions and we can’t lose that, but there is nothing wrong with taking them and continuing to advance it to make it become a [new] tradition for the future. I wanted to jump on this opportunity because I was tired of not being able to identify with any of the establishments on a personable level and there’s a whole community who feel the same way. So, if I’m going to tell the story of Houston and diversity, I’m making sure to leave space on the table. We deserve to show up.
Defender: What three lessons would you give to aspiring young Black business owners?
Amosu : Honestly, I’m preaching to myself on a lot of this, but the first is don’t get too high and don’t get too low. This whole journey is not linear. So, there are going to be days of celebration, and there are going to be days of sadness. So not being too driven either way. Embrace the short term and move the needle a little bit further.
The second aspect that I’ve learned honestly is the power of education. When I say education, I mean from an aspect of what it is we’re providing the community. I think the food is great, but what people really like is the education behind the experience. What really takes it to the next level is substance. The story, the narrative, the why behind what we are doing.
Third is… just do it. Don’t give up. You’re going to fall multiple times. I’ve had failures quite a bit. How I maybe negotiated certain situations… or I put the business out there for opportunities where I look back and said I could have probably positioned us a little better. Missed some pop ups that I felt like we probably didn’t execute to the level that we wanted to. And there were some pop ups I felt like we shouldn’t have done. Not allowing that to deter us from continuing on.
Defender: Talk about the Chopd and Stewd Festival that your team is hosting in September.
Amosu : That’s the name of our dining series that we first launched in 2018. I always say one time for the city and two times for the culture. Obviously, Houston is the home of “Chopped and Screwed,” and we are definitely talking about the culture that we come from in terms of the West African diaspora. Chopd and Stewd is our love story to the city on behalf of who we are as people of the diaspora. It’s allowing people from all walks of life to retrace their roots back to our West African ancestry. It’s a culinary festival that’s going to happen Sept. 30. It’s actually the day before Nigerian Independence Day. Houston has a large Nigerian community, so we felt this was a festive time for everyone to come together for good eats, speaks, trade and beats. We’re going to have a big culinary village on the (Post Houston) rooftop. We’re bringing the best chefs from the Houston area. They’re going to be in Chef Pods all throughout the rooftop to cook alongside me and the
ChòpnBlọk fam for a few dining experiences. We’ll have games and entertainment in addition to that. We’re tapping into that soft life. Starting off the morning with some Afro vibes yoga, Afrobeats dance off, and we’re going to cap it off with a big independence party that we call our Sounds of the Motherland Kickback. We’ll have vendors setting up an artisan market. We have prominent members of the diaspora who will speak on topics that are going to allow us to reflect on who we are in a very relaxed and engaging fashion.”