It’s truly a blessing to meet someone who instantly comprehends your vibe. This was precisely the case for Eddie Omari-Rivers and I. Our distinguished mutual friend, Amir Almaimani, introduced us to each other and ever since our very first encounter, we’ve been communicating like long lost brothers.
Eddie, better known as “Ed Choppo,” is a humble yet passionate soul with many talents. Not only is he an excellent cook—thanks to his grandmother who opened up the very first African cuisine in New York—and athlete, Choppo is also a New York City-based Health Consultant whose clientele consists of some of the wealthiest people on the planet!
Despite his stellar success, the self-made 29-year-old remains hungry and focused on inspiring whomever he comes across. I recently sat down with the South Bronx native to discuss his humble beginnings in the concrete jungle, adoration for cooking, fitness regimen, and motivation behind his unremitting work ethic. Check out our in-depth conversation below:
FRENDY: Ed, thanks for having me over so we could chop it up for a bit. I know you’re an extremely busy guy.
ED: F#ck all that busy sh*t! You make time for whatever you want to make time for.
FRENDY: Exactly! The very first time we caught up you whipped up an exceptional meal. I know your beloved grandmother taught you how to cook and all, but how long did it actually take to get this good?
ED: I can’t really put a time period on it. I could just tell you that I cook, cook, cook—everyday I try to spice it up. It’s trial and error.
FRENDY: Do you remember the first dish you prepared?
ED: Yeah, I’m actually known for this, all my college mates know me for it. It’s baked barbeque chicken with potatoes and carrots—the chicken falls off the f#ckin’ bone. That’s what we survived on in college ‘cause in Vermont every f#ckin’ restaurant closes at around 8pm. You have a bunch of inner city kids who are trying to eat good, the only thing we had were tater tots and Denny’s…
FRENDY: You weren’t messing with that…
ED: Nah. Sh*t ain’t no food man *Laughs*.
FRENDY: So you were kind of forced to cook? I mean, you love doing it, I’m sure it wasn’t a burden.
ED: I love cooking, but I had no choice. When you have no choice, you learn to adapt quick.
FRENDY: Would you say that was the moment you took cooking seriously?
ED: I started taking it seriously while in college, but not when I was cooking in my dorm room. I really took it up a notch during my sophomore year when I started taking a nutrition course where I learned about food groups and its effect on the body. Once I implemented that in my cooking, that was when I was mind blown. I guess that’s when I was addicted to it.
FRENDY: From then on, it just took over your life…
ED: I used to cook like three times a week at school. It was also a hustle—I was just cooking for my basketball homies. I would bake the chicken for like six hours at 275 degrees; the aroma would just spread throughout the whole building I was staying in. So one day, one of my homies suggested that I should charge $5 a plate. I started doing it and made a killing!
FRENDY: That’s awesome. It’s all about cultivating good energy, which is one of the main reasons you started cooking right?
ED: I always found that food and sports are two mechanisms that bring people together—you never see people argue or fuss while they’re having a great meal. You do see the joy that people get. If you’re the person that cooks the food, you see it in a person after they eat. That’s a priceless feeling.
FRENDY: I noticed that you didn’t make yourself a plate after you served me that bomb meal. Do you normally not eat with your guests?
ED: Yeah, I don’t. Some people hate me for it, but it’s my grandmother’s tradition. I’ve cooked for the masses and they would all want me to eat with them. I tell ‘em go to hell * Laughs *.
FRENDY: We’ll get back to the food in a minute—let’s talk about your origin. I’ve lived in New York for about 20 some odd years and only have been to the Bronx at most 2 times. It seems so distant to me *Laughs *. How’d you like living there?
ED: I love it man—I’m Southside certified. I was born in the Bronx…you see the grin on my face…I love the Bronx. I’m from the Southside—I’m from the heart of it. The Bronx is a city in itself with all different races interacting with each other.
FRENDY: What was your childhood like? Were you running around with the “hood” kids, or were you disciplined enough not to?
ED: I was always disciplined in the way I was raised, but as my grandmother always said, I was always a little fearless and stubborn-hearted. So, I know what is right from wrong, but I’m going to do whatever I need to do at a particular moment. As a kid I was always into sports, my dad was never around that much. He left when I was two and I didn’t meet him until I was 26 or so.
I spent most of my childhood with my grandmother. My mom was always going to nursing school, so I grew up thinking my granny was my mom. When I was sent to Africa at the age of six she came along with me. I always called her “momma.”
FRENDY: Why were you sent to Africa at the age of six?
ED: It’s a cultural thing, you know. My mom side of the family wanted to see me—I had to go back there to do some ritual sh*t. That’s a story for another day. My mom sent me to Ghana for like four years. Then, my daddy side of the family wanted to see me so I went to Ethiopia for another four years. I came back to the states for 8th grade, high school and college.
FRENDY: Oh, so most of your childhood was spent in Africa?
ED: Yeah, that’s why I see the world the way that I do. As much as living in Africa impacted me, the Bronx did that same thing but in a different magnitude.
FRENDY: I think that’s why you’re so balanced as an individual. If someone met you for the very first time he/she would think you’re an absolute menace appearance wise, when in reality you’re extremely grounded and introspective.
ED: That’s my whole approach. Growing up in the Bronx made me like that. I lost a lot of people I loved at a young age to nonsense violence. When I came back to the Bronx, all my homies were grown. I remember my friend “Fresh,” he went from being a skinny bull who always kept getting picked on to a person who never left his house without a gun.
FRENDY: Do you think that would have been you as well if you stayed in the BX?
ED: Nah. My uncle was the head of a gang and I always told him as a kid that the gangbanging sh*t is stupid. He asked me why and I said if I have a problem with someone it’s because I have a problem with them, not because so and so I know that is in the same set as me have a problem with them. He later explained to me that being in a gang isn’t really like that—people that do that are really f#cking up the game. He said it’s all about representing your set, taking care of the community.
FRENDY: It’s like a family…
ED: Yeah. Back then the police used to come in the neighborhoods and f#ck up the community and do whatever they wanted. So the gang members were like the gatekeepers, you dig? But now it turned to some other dumb sh*t. I’m always going to do what I want to do.
See there’s one thing I learned about the hood—when you respect yourself and stand up for what you believe in, even the OGs salute you. I tell them you do that gangbanging sh*t, that ain’t me. I ain’t about that life.
FRENDY: As long as you remain true to yourself, it doesn’t matter if you’re a gangster or not…
ED: Even the gangsters are going to salute you.
ED: See, I love the Bronx because I met all types of people. If I was to go to the South Bronx with you right now, you’ll be shocked on how many people I know. I learned so much from them. The biggest trappers etc. would tell me “yo youngin’ keep hoopin’, f#ck this sh*t. This is no way of life.”
Every real drug dealer I’ve ever met, never tried to tell a n*gga from the hood to do what they do. I’m sure if you go to a couple of hoods in America you’ll find some kids that will tell you the same sh*t. Hearing all of this at such a young age made me move a bit different. I was raised and schooled by some real OGs, you know?
FRENDY: So when you returned to the Bronx, which school did you attend?
ED: I went to Paul Robeson middle school, I.S 183. Initially I wanted to go to 162, but they wouldn’t put me there because all my homies went to the school. We were all known for being troublemakers at that time. Just a bunch of wasted youth man, we didn’t know any better.
FRENDY: Although you were a rowdy kid, you still knew what was right from wrong obviously…
ED: Yeah, I always stood up for what I believed in. I wasn’t the type to condone dumb shit, like If I wasn’t going to do it I won’t influence my n*gga to do it. I think that’s part of the reason why I was so protected growing up, even when my uncle when to Jail. He actually just came home after a 20-year bid.
FRENDY: How were you doing in school? What were your grades looking like?
ED: The American school system is funny to me. I don’t know if it’s because of the time I spent in Africa or not. When I was in Ghana under the British education system, it was better. When I came back to the states, I was put in grade six because of my age. I was there for about a month. Then the school placed me in grade eight.
FRENDY: Why did that happen?
ED: Because I was too advanced for that sh*t—the American education system is easy in a way because they test us on memory and less on wisdom and intelligence. I’m a visual person so it’s really easy for me to memorize something. I never really took school serious, but I did have the second highest SAT score in my HS.
FRENDY: Which HS was that?
ED: This is Life Science Secondary High School on the Upper East Side. I think they changed it to a charter school now. My grandmother taught me a lot back in Africa. I was actually homeschooled by her—she was teaching me about Selassie, Malcolm and Marcus Garvey.
FRENDY: It was beyond food with her…
ED: Yeah—my grandmother is a G, man.
FRENDY: When you were living in Ghana, your mother wasn’t around?
ED: Nah, she was back in New York City going to nursing school.
FRENDY: How about your dad?
ED: Nah, he left when I was real young. We never really kept in touch until I was around 26. I have my mother’s heart, but the majority of my personality is my dad—he’s an arrogant piece of shit. I’m not proud of it...I have his blood in me. I’m trying to balance everything out. I’ll figure it out one day.
FRENDY: What was the reason behind your mom’s move to America?
ED: She came here for school. My grandmother had a store on 225th and White Plains road called “African Queen.” It might still be there, who knows. She was importing traditional African goods to the states that people needed. Stuff like fufu, peanuts and all the other traditional essentials of North African cuisine.
Ghana is known for two things: gold and cocoa. Cocoa you can make chocolate out of it—my family own plenty farms of it. When it turns yellow, you cut it and eat it fresh. It’s one of the best fruits you can ever f#cking eat. She noticed in the neighborhood that there was a bunch of Jamaicans, and they loved bleaching their skin. Skin bleaching is very big in the West Indian islands—look at Vybz Kartel. So there’s a huge market for that. My grandmother would take one of the key supplements in bleaching, which is cocoa. The dried shell of the cocoa is smashed up to produce an essential oil to help the skin bleach naturally. She would mix that with other chemicals, and that would be the moneymaker. She used all of the money to open a restaurant. She had an apartment right above the CBS studios on 50 something street for years before she passed.
FRENDY: When we spoke for the first time, you mentioned that you became homeless for a while. How did that end up happening?
ED: It’s because granny died when I was 15. My granny was the head of the household. She had a will so she shared all of her wealth amongst her many kids and sisters’ kids. Although wealth was spread out, family members were still fighting to get a piece of the pie. The restaurant and the apartment in the Bronx was supposed to go to my mom, but someone in the family, who’s known for using witchcraft (most people in the Western world call it voodoo) wanted it. So my mom gave that sh*t up. My mom avoids confrontation at all cost. She’s a God-fearing woman.
FRENDY: So I guess when that happened your mom didn’t have anything?
ED: She was counting on the love of her life, which is my dad. My dad had this two-bedroom condo on 455 Jackson Ave. in the Bronx. That was when it was dirt poor over there. We stayed there for a bit until we got kicked out. That was when my mom had a year or two left in nursing school. My mom and dad were beefing during that time so he sold the apartment. We didn’t have anywhere else to go.
FRENDY: How long were you guys homeless?
ED: For two years.
FRENDY: Where were y’all staying?
ED: Churches, restaurants, bathrooms, buses, trains. I hated shelters. During those times I never lost faith, but I was always questioning it.
FRENDY: Were you able to go to schools during that time?
ED: Yeah, I went to school everyday with a smile on my f#ckin’ face. I used to take showers with restaurant soup bowls and napkins and sh*t. So I used to go to school and stay after school to shoot hoops.
FRENDY: Wow, so even during all of your trials and tribulations, you still kept a smile in your face…
ED: I had to—I didn’t have a choice. My momma assured me that the good Lord was putting us through this for greater things. Sometimes I believed it and sometimes I questioned it. It’s hard to believe that sh*t when you haven’t eating in 3 days and only been drinking Tropical Fantasy sodas—I used to drink four of those sh*ts a day. I was charged up!
FRENDY: Were you playing sports while in school?
ED: Yeah, yeah I was playing HS basketball and soccer.
FRENDY: Would you say that playing sports was an escape for you?
ED: Yeah, basketball is definitely an escape for me. I love basketball because it allowed me to get rid of some pain. Shooting hoops gave me a relieving feeling.
FRENDY: There wasn’t any sort of tuition to pay for school?
FRENDY: Oh, that’s really good. Do you consider the homeless stage of of your life as fuel that made you focus on things like sports etc.?
ED: Nah, if I said that I would be lying. Because even when I was playing sports I was never focused. While I’m at practice, I would wonder where I would sleep at night. Although playing sports was an outlet for me, I was never fully able to concentrate or focus as much as I wanted to. I gave up soccer after my freshman year.
FRENDY: Why did you give it up?
ED: Because there was too many f#ckin’ rules. The rules weren’t matching up, or the demands of the coach.
FRENDY: What’s one rule that you truly detested?
ED: Showing up to practice an hour early.
FRENDY: So, in basketball you didn’t have to do that?
ED: No. As long as you were on time for practice, there was no problem.
FRENDY: So soccer was too structured for you?
ED: I wouldn’t say that. It was the winter months and I didn’t feel like staying in the cold an hour early when the coaches would show up for 10 minutes. So why the f#ck would I be there an hour early…
FRENDY: * Laughs * so you straight up stopped going…
ED: Yeah—I also stopped playing because I was often compared to my dad a lot. He was a big soccer player back home. My approach to sports was way different from my dad’s.
FRENDY: That’s pretty funny. I remember you telling me that you played college sports. Which college did you attend?
ED: I went to the University of Vermont.
FRENDY: Did you get a scholarship to play ball there or what?
ED: Yeah, it was soccer first then I started fucking around…
FRENDY: Wait a minute, even when you quit playing soccer during your freshman yeah in HS you still got a scholarship?
ED: Yeah…I would go to like camps in this place called Sports Science at Delaware State University. To this day I love soccer.
FRENDY: What was so different between playing soccer in HS and camp?
ED: I learned discipline in sports at camp and how to really approach it.
FRENDY: What made it more enjoyable than playing soccer at school?
ED: It was challenging. The camp was called called “Sports Challenge.” The sports part is what really gets the kids involved, but the challenge part, most of us weren’t prepared for it. If you stuck with it, you’ll come out a little different.
FRENDY: Was UVM your first college of choice to attend?
ED: Nah. I had Norfolk State, Virginia Commonwealth, and NYU.
FRENDY: They all wanted to recruit you for specifically for basketball or soccer?
ED: Both. I originally wanted to go to NYU because of their academics, but as a youth I used to party there a lot. So I know if I went to school there I wouldn’t be able to focus—I also needed a break from the city.
FRENDY: What was your first impression of Vermont?
ED: It was good! It was the first time I saw people leave their apartment doors wide open to drop their garbage out. It was a breath of fresh air and it changed my perspective—I would say Vermont made me a better person.
FRENDY: What compelled you to go to the University of Vermont and not any of those other schools you named?
ED: I knew some of the coaches from there; I met them at a camp up in Syracuse when I was 16.
FRENDY: Did you play sports during all four years of college?
ED: I played one year of soccer and basketball and then took a break.
FRENDY: Why did you take a break?
ED: It was too political. Playing sports on a collegiate level is too political, that’s when I knew it was more for business than anything else. Also, at the time I was going through a lot of sh*t—I lost my grandmother, I broke my left ankle. They wanted me to have surgery on it, but lucky for me I formed this very beautiful bond with UVM’s head athletic trainer and former Olympian Mike Kampler. Mike is definitely the reason why I train now. He helped me understand what training is all about.
FRENDY: Did Mike prevent you from having the surgery?
ED: I was told by the doctors at UVM that surgery was my only option, but I said f#ck that, they’re just trying to get a n*gga back in the field as soon as possible—we were having a great year at the time. They wanted to drill and put screws in my leg, I didn’t want to do that. Mike told me that I didn’t need surgery. He told me that it’s not good at all to have screws in your ankle. You remember Grant Hill?
FRENDY: Of course, he was one of my favorite players back in the day. He was a very explosive player in the beginning of his NBA career…
ED: Well, he lost about six to seven years of his prime because he elected to have an ankle surgery. Not just a regular ankle surgery, but also the same sh*t I was about to have where they put two screws to hold it together. It’s a quick process and allows you to get back on the playing field. However, the nerves at the bottom of your feet where the screws are not meant to be tampered with—at any given point they can get infected. When it gets infected, a three-month process becomes a nine months to a year recovery time.
FRENDY: Ah, ok. It makes more sense now because Grant really wasn’t the same after he came back to the court after his surgery.
ED: He tried coming back, but the ankle issue was always there. There’s a documentary out there on him. You should watch it. It f*cked him up…he couldn’t move, he almost died ‘cause of that sh*t, bro. Because the ankle got infected, which caused other complications.
So yeah, Mike told me all that sh*t and said that he could help me recover.
FRENDY: Throughout your recovery process with Mike, your love of training was birthed. That’s remarkable.
ED: Yeah, I remember he told me that I was going to end up doing this sh*t! And I’m like “Mike, what would make you that?” At the time, I told him “f#ck no, you see all the sh*t you got to deal with?”. He just laughed and replied “Ed, if there’s only one thing I know about you its that you like helping people. Just remember I told you this.” So every time Mike and I speak, I always bring that memory up. He’s my guru.
FRENDY: What’s divine about your life is that you always came across a figure that guided you down the right path…
ED: True. But there’s certain types of people that try to play that “figure” role and I don’t even vibe or f#ck with them because it seems forced.
FRENDY: During your healing process, were you still attending class?
ED: Nah, I wasn’t going to class anymore. I never really went to class. I was only interested in Law, Philosophy and Marketing because I figured I could apply those three things in my everyday life. College is made to really form new friendships.
FRENDY: Wait, weren’t you there with a scholarship?
ED: Well, I knew the GPA that I had to get in order to maintain that scholarship. I would get that GPA.
FRENDY: What were you doing instead of going to class?
ED: I was traveling around, probably in New York or LA somewhere.
FRENDY: * Laughs * But you would still take your finals right?
ED: Yeah. So, I’ll have the syllabus and I would turn in the most important work –all you had to do was email the sh*t.
FRENDY: Beating the system I see * Laughs *. Speaking of which, how did you and your mom escape homelessness?
ED: Well, eventually my mom graduated from nursing school and right off the bat she got a gig to be a UNICEF nurse in Honduras. They gave her a huge check for that.
FRENDY: How old were you when this happened?
ED: I was around 18…
FRENDY: Man, I’m glad you guys got out of that situation. When did you actually decide to get into the fitness field?
ED: I would say two or three years after college when I started at Equinox. Once one of my clients told me how much money I would be able to make on my own rather than working for a company.
FRENDY: I heard about you through Amir and he always told me about you being a phenomenal basketball coach. How’d you get into that?
ED: Well, I always had a passion for the youth. I was coaching while I was in college and after. My HS coach also coached camps at NYC’s Columbia University (all of these Ivy League schools would have these basketball camps). My coach always took me with him so I could stay out of trouble. He would have me run a few drills and from then on I connected with the kids.
After that, I started doing some AAU stuff also, but once I found out the business side of it, I said “f#ck this sh*t!” I stopped doing it and just did my own thing.
FRENDY: You basically learned the fundamentals of being a coach and left the circuit…
ED: I wouldn’t even call myself a coach. I think part of the reason why the kids that I worked with f#cked with me the way they did was ‘cause I didn’t take that approach. I didn’t take the coach approach—I was one of them. They can relate to me. I always tell people that if you can keep it real with the young ones, they’ll forever keep it 100 with you.
To be honest you with you, my HS basketball coach Michael Murphy played a really intricate part in my life. He always kept me out of trouble.
FRENDY: Were you only coaching basketball or other sports as well?
ED: One thing I wish most people would understand is that no matter what your field of occupation is, what your job description is it is never just that. You know? I would be with these kids from the basketball court to the weight room for hours on end. After that, I would watch them eat sh*t! They were destroying what we were trying to build. That inspired me to cook for them. When you spend that much time with people, especially kids, you form a golden bond with them. So to me, no matter what you do as a job, it’s never just that. It’s the little intangibles that make it that way.
FRENDY: It’s the “smallest” things that actually count. Just like how it’s one’s invisible world that conducts his/her reality, form wise. The form is just the effect of imagination…
ED: I used to have one of my homies (he was far from a saint, I ain’t one either) who used to tell me to not curse around the 13-14 year old kids. They already knew all the curse words in the book so I kept it real with them. I remained on their level.
FRENDY: So right after college, you went into personal training at Equinox…
ED: Yeah, but even during that time I was doing more basketball related trainings right after college.
FRENDY: What degree did you graduate with?
ED: Economics and Pre-Law.
FRENDY: Oh wow, that’s totally different from sports.
ED: Yeah, but then I went back for my Exercise Science degree. So in reality, I have three degrees.
FRENDY: Did you attempt to get a job in your field of study right after school?
ED: Nah. I’m not Jewish—at that time the market was f#cked up—I’m black; I’m African… you know? Your college degrees do not define your calling.
FRENDY: I’m pretty sure you knew that you weren’t going to have a career in economics or pre law while you were studying them in college.
ED: Of course, I always knew that.
FRENDY: How did you end up working with arguably the best receiver in the NFL, Antonio Brown?
ED: It’s been in the works for a very long time. My artist buddy Corey Pane would tell me about him and he’ll often tell Antonio about me.
FRENDY: How did you even get to know Corey?
ED: I met him through a very great friend of mine while I was in the University of Vermont—I call him Sleven. He’s that white mothaf#cka, he’s cold man * Laughs *. All my white boys are cold though. That’s a fact. Sleven would give a sweater to a stranger, but would kill a mothaf#cka in a second for anything he stands for or loves.
FRENDY: Oh ok. How did Corey know Antonio?
ED: They’ve known each other for quite some time. I think they became good friends after Corey shared his art with him.
FRENDY: When did you initially meet him?
ED: It’s basically how me met. Amir kept telling you about me and vice versa, Corey did the same thing with Antonio and I. He was in the city last year, around March I believe, to do some Madden NFL cover sh*t. While Antonio was handling that, he also wanted to work out. The gym he wanted to work out at was closed. He wanted someone to train with so Corey called me like six times. Corey has never done that. I really didn’t want to answer the phone because I had a long day, but my girlfriend insisted that I should. I finally answered and he said that he was with Antonio and he was trying to get a work out in. All of a sudden, Antonio gets on the phone and tells me that he heard great things about me from Corey and that he’s trying to get a work out in.
I told my lady about the situation and she said to stop being a b*tch and just go.
FRENDY: So you were reluctant to go and work out with him because you were extremely tired that day?
ED: It didn’t matter to me who the f#ck the name was—what mattered was what my connection with Corey and what my lady told me. I was basically doing Corey a favor. That’s how I viewed it, that’s my brother.
My relationship with Antonio flourished after that workout. We were supposed to work out for only 30 minutes but we ended up in the gym for almost three hours.
FRENDY: Just straight vibin’…
FRENDY: Were you showing him maneuvers that he wasn’t doing before?
ED: Yeah. I watched a 10-minute video of Antonio before I went to train him so I was able to point out what he wasn’t doing etc. I never really focus on what a person is really good at because that’s what everyone else focuses on. I always pay attention to the slightest details—I’m very, very over analytical, which helps me in a lot of regards, but at the same time hinders me as well.
Mike, the athletic trainer I told you about earlier, taught me everything I know about the importance of core strength—unilateral training. I believe without a strong core, you don’t have a strong body. You could train as much as you want, but if you eat like a truck driver mothaf#cka you’re going to look like a truck driver. Nutrition far outweighs your training.
FRENDY: After that first epic workout, what happened next?
ED: I’ll never forget this. He came out with a bundle of money and said, “Thanks man, I really appreciate this.” I didn’t go there expecting to get paid. Antonio then called his agent and told him how much he loved the workout with me. He then invited me over to have dinner with his family.
FRENDY: Earlier you mentioned that you almost didn’t go to workout with Antonio because you were extremely tired. What was your schedule like?
ED: I usually wake up at 6am to train as many people as I can. I have a problem with saying “no” to people.
FRENDY: What’s the motivation behind your relentless work ethic?
ED: Well, first of all I love helping people. Secondly, it’s therapeutic for me. I need it…fitness is an addiction.
FRENDY: Would you say that it saved your life?
ED: Yeah, it has always been one of my coping mechanisms. No matter what I was going through, I always found the time to workout.