EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — When TikTok chef Omi Hopper received an email inviting her to be on Next Level Chef, she thought it was a scam.
“Never in a million years would I have thought that I would be in a competition show,” Omi told 12 News.
Omi, known on social media as @CookingConOmi, will be on season 2 of the cooking reality show judged by chefs Gordon Ramsay, Nyesha Arrington, and Richard Blais. A former makeup artist, Omi began cooking on TikTok from her Riverside kitchen during the pandemic.
What started as a hobby quickly became her full-time job. Now, Omi cooks for more than 520,000 followers, making traditional Puerto Rican dishes like arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), pollo encebollado (chicken with onions), and sancocho (stew).
“Puerto Rican food is so rich, and it has so many different flavors,” Omi said. “You can cook a plantain 25 different ways. That gives me the freedom to be able to cook any other food profile and give it that Puerto Rican flair every time.”
A scroll through her page shows her love of cooking is closely tied to her Puerto Rican heritage—something she carried with her to the show.
“I went in there with a purpose of representing a culture, and I really wanted that to shine, and I found the vessel,” Omi said.
Omi said she went to “Grandma College,” having learned to cook with her family in Río Grande, Puerto Rico. She moved to Rhode Island when she was 11.
According to Omi, Ramsay was familiar with her social media cooking thanks to one video she posted in 2021. Omi corrected Ramsay’s attempt at making Puerto Rican “pegao”—a well-known method used on the island to make crispy rice.
Her tutorial garnered more than 50,000 likes on TikTok.
“I said, ‘Mira, ven para aca que te voy a ensenar,’ and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, the embarrassment … did he see that?'” Omi recalled. “And they said, ‘Of course he saw it. He loved it.'”
Ramsay, who has won multiple Michelin stars, has starred on the food competition shows Hell’s Kitchen and Masterchef. He’s also well known for having a tough reputation in the kitchen.
“He’s so cool,” Omi said. “He actually brings a little bit of peace when he comes to talk to you.”
Season 2 of Next Level Chef premieres Sunday on FOX Providence after the Super Bowl.