Chef Ope Amosu will take over Mawa’s Kitchen and Mawita in celebration of Black History Month
For local chef and entrepreneur Mawa McQueen, embracing Black History Month took time.
“Black History Month wasn’t something that I always paid attention to because I never thought I’d relate to it as an African-French person,” she said. “But then I realized, with everything going on in America, how important the month is and that it’s not just for African Americans. It’s for everyone to learn about and celebrate.”
She was born in the West African country of Ivory Coast, raised in Paris, and has been a fixture in the hospitality and restaurant industry in Aspen for two decades.
She opened her first restaurant, Mawa’s Kitchen, 10 years ago and has since expanded her culinary empire to include The Crepe Shack and Mawita in Snowmass Base Village, launched a high-end grain-free granola company, published a cookbook, and been nominated for a James Beard Award.
Today, Mawa’s Kitchen is the only black-owned restaurant in Aspen, and for the month of February, McQueen is offering specials like jumbo shrimp and grits and buttermilk chicken and waffles for lunch.
For dinner, she has added organic blue corn hush puppies, West African gumbo served with fou fou (a West African doughy “swallow” food traditionally made from cassava), and her personal favorite, braised oxtail.
For many years, she shied away from cooking African food and leaned into her French culinary skills, but that all changed for her after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by police in May 2020, and the protests that erupted soon after.
After that, she decided it was time to introduce this mountain town to food reflecting her African roots, hosting special African and Middle Eastern dinners, and incrementally adding new items to the menu.
“So many of the ingredients that are used in American cooking come from Africa — from plantains to fried chicken to mac and cheese, and on and on, it all has roots in Africa,” she said.
McQueen is now taking the next step in that journey.
“It is no secret that while well cultured, the Aspen-Snowmass community is by no means diverse,” said McQueen. “As a member of the small minority community that exists in town and as a business owner, I feel it is important to use my platform and my space as a place where people can come together, learn about new cultures, flavors, and perspectives over a delicious meal.”
To achieve this, she plans to invite emerging and established chefs from across the country to showcase their talent and share flavors and cuisine not easily accessible in a mountain community through a pop-up dinner series. The chefs will take over her restaurants for two evenings — one night at Mawa’s Kitchen and one at Mawita. A small portion of ticket cost will go to charity.
“Through this series, we would give everyone, not just the small minority who can afford $250 plus, plus special event dinners at the luxury hotels, access to new foods, new chefs, and new stories,” she said.
First up is Houston Chef Ope Amosu, who will be taking over Mawa’s Kitchen on Thursday and Mawita on Friday in honor of Black History Month.
Chef Amosu is the son of Nigerian immigrants and the founder and chef of ChòpnBlọk Houston — originally a pop-up dining concept rooted in contemporary West African traditions — that has grown into a nationally-recognized restaurant.
He is a rising star with an extensive list of celebrity clientele and features, including Bravo TV’s “Top Chef,” The James Beard Foundation, The New York Times, Food & Wine, PBS’ “No Passport Required,” and an upcoming special on Hulu.
McQueen met him for the first time last summer at The Family Reunion — a gathering that celebrates diversity in the cooking and hospitality industry hosted by Kwame Onwuachi, Food & Wine, and Salamander Hotels & Resorts — and reconnected with him last month at the James Beard Foundation Chef Summit in Houston.
“He cooked one of the meals at the summit, and it blew me away,” McQueen said. “I said to myself, ‘I have to bring him to Aspen and Snowmass. He has to be here and share his talent with a new audience. His food is healthy, West African, and completely unique.’”
For this week’s pop-ups at Mawa’s and Mawita, Chef Amosu will be creating a four-course Nigerian-inspired menu. Tickets are $98, and a portion of the proceeds will go to Aspen Strong.
“I want people to educate and expand their palette with this dinner, try new things, and learn about a new approach to food. Plus, it’s a fun and tasty way to celebrate Black History Month and enjoy food you can’t always find in the Roaring Fork Valley,” she said.
What: Aspen Guest Chef Popup Series – Chef Ope Amosu
Where: Mawa’s Kitchen, Aspen and Mawita, Snowmass Base Village
When: Thursday (Mawa’s) and Friday (Mawita)
More Info: mawaskitchen.com/aspen-guest-chef-popup-series-chef-ope-amosu/
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