Over the past nine months, Ope Amosu has been staging a quiet revolution.
In March, Amosu began staging a series of private suppers showcasing potential menu items from a restaurant he plans to open that will offer a “fast-casual” spin on West African cuisine. The reception has been extremely positive, and excitement for the launch of the brick-and-mortar establishment ChòpnBlok and demand for invites to Amosu’s dinners are growing.
But Amosu’s journey to this point began decades earlier as a child of Nigerian immigrants growing up in a close-knit group of Houstonians also of West African descent. Social gatherings, in which neighbors shared meals of home-cooked dishes, functioned as a platform for teaching younger members about the code of customs that govern behavior and interpersonal interactions in West African culture, placing a heavy emphasis on industriousness and respect for one’s elders.
Because of these experiences, Amosu developed a strong sense of identity and relationship to his culinary roots, which remained strong even as he was otherwise immersed in American life. After graduating from high school in Houston, Amosu went to Truman State University on a full academic and football scholarship. He excelled both as a marketing major and defensive end, but Minnesota never quite became home, and Amosu found himself eager to return to Texas.
While pursuing his MBA at Rice University, Amosu focused his research on energy and entrepreneurship. Ironically, it was the mastery of these ostensibly “non-foodie” subjects that led to the light-bulb moment that would inspire Amosu to permanently fulfill his gastronomical passions. His graduate degree garnered him a position at General Electric, which meant significant travel to (and eating in) other culinary metropolises with strong and diverse ethnic populations, such as Philadelphia.
And then, Amosu’s epiphany: "I thought, ‘Why do I have to go out of my way to experience terrific West African foods?’ Despite whichever city I'm in, I either have to go to people’s homes or drive into the immigrant community to find a West African restaurant.” Thus, Amosu went forward with a new goal: to make the West African foods he loved accessible for all to enjoy.
The consummate scholar even when it comes to cuisine, Amosu began working as a prep cook in a fast-casual restaurant to hone his skills in that segment of the industry while seeking tutorials on Nigerian staples from accomplished home cooks in Houston. Gradually his vision for his own restaurant took shape, and this concept continued to be refined as Amosu began experimenting with preparation techniques and menu formats during invite-only dinners for local influencers and foodies. Guests have been able to sample signature items, such as Amosu’s “Trad Bowl” (grilled chicken, jollof jambalaya, stewed plantains, and vegetables spiced with yaji) and “Àkàrà Sliders" (West African honey bean fritters dressed in yaji garlic mayo and served on sweet Hawaiian rolls).
The positive feedback is mounting and the buzz surround ChòpnBlok is increasing, but you don’t have to take our word for it. Decide for yourself whether Nigerian jollof is your jam by going to one of Amosu’s pop-ups. The next ticketed event will be Sunday at Cafeza. Attendees are not only guaranteed a multi-course dinner, but also, Amosu promises, a comprehensive educational introduction to the fundamentals of West African culture.
ChòpnBlok’s next pop-up will be held Sunday. Tickets are available here.