The Puerto Rican Food Rule That Omi Hopper's Grandma Taught Her - Exclusive

It's time for some straight-up real talk. Creatives in other industries strive to be the future. As for culinary creatives — it's hard to find one who's not pining for the techniques and flavors of the past. Current "Hell's Kitchen" champion Alex Belew's north star is his grandmother, and her biscuits. "My grandmother made the best food I ever had," he recently told Mashed. "I could never figure it out how she did it." Even Lidia Bastianich, who is undisputably the culinary scene's adopted grandma, still dreams of her grandmother when cooking. "My flavors, they do represent me: they represent my history, the flavors of who I am," she told Mashed. "People see themselves in very different ways. I can identify with the flavors, the foods, the aromas, all of that. And so, the question is, 'how does this identify me with my grandmother?'"

"Next Level Chef" mentor Nya Arrington once gushed to Mashed about her aunt's mac and cheese and the "amazing, positive, beautiful food data" that the family matriarch gifted her. As for her Season 2 mentee, Omi Hopper? You can see where this is going already. The rising social media star out of Rhode Island also strives to replicate and re-invent the flavors of her childhood, cooking with her grandma in Puerto Rico. This, she exclusively dished to Mashed, is her number one takeaway.

How Omi Hopper's grandma taught her to 'taste the earth'

It's no coincidence that the first product Omi Hopper ever started selling was a version of the sofrito fresquesito that her abuela used to make. "That's going to be your cooking base for any stews, for any meats, for any rice and beans. It's always going to be the base, and the aroma that you get from the cilantro and the culantro and all of those spices ... it's incredible," Hopper explained to Mashed. "It truly is a taste of Puerto Rican food."

This Puerto Rican mirepoix, and the way her grandma would prepare it, continues to guide Hopper's cooking philosophy today. "Less is more," Hopper said, emphasizing the importance of only using the freshest of produce. "My grandmother would always say, 'Cut your vegetables fresh' ... she would cut her vegetables nice and fresh and add those ingredients [to her Sofrito]. Less is more." Using vegetables fresh off the vine adds an otherwise unattainable flavor to dishes, especially sofrito, Hopper emphasized. "You taste earth when you're tasting this dish, and that's why it's one of my favorites."