African Chop Truck offers a taste of Cameroon to LA

This article is presented in collaboration with the Natural History Museum “Kneaded: LA Bread Stories, “a project that pays homage to LA’s history, heritage, and community through the lens of bread.

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Opportune Akendeu and I was born and raised in half of my years in Central Africa, Cameroon. I grew up in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, and I lived there until I was fourteen years old before moving to Los Angeles.

Opportune holds an orange bowl filled with golden brown puffs, each the size of a tennis ball.  Opportune is wearing a black chef's shirt and smiles at the camera.

Opportune shares its batch of perfectly cooked puffs.

What made you decide to move to Los Angeles?

My grandfather was already in Los Angeles; he was a teacher. And when he migrated here, he started migrating his family. At the time, Cameroon was everything to me. It was the only thing I knew, so it was actually hard for me to get here. For some reason, I was afraid to start over – I had to learn to speak like Americans, I wanted to learn to eat what they ate. I was fourteen years old, that was what went through my head. But four of my siblings, my mom and I traveled to Los Angeles together.

Now I’m calling home to LA. LA is the place that has raised me and made me the woman I am and am becoming. It has helped me lift myself in so many ways – for example, by breaking through the food culture. Now I love Thai food. It was so wild to eat a taco, but now I make my own tacos. So I evolved, and I’m still evolving with the people of LA. I do not think anywhere else in the world could take the place of LA because it is the only place where I am able to meet all these different groups of people and that is why when people ask me where I come from from, I say, I’m from LA So I love LA with all my heart.

I evolved and I’m still evolving with the people of LA. I do not think anywhere else in the world could take the place of LA

Opportune Akendeu, African Chop Truck

How did African Chop Truck start?

I’ve been walking the streets of LA since I was fourteen – I grew up here, went to high school here and some college, but I had never seen an African food truck. I had a conversation with friends at Starbucks and I said, you know, it would be cool if there was a foodtruck, an African foodtruck selling authentic West African cuisine. My friends and I laughed and thought, “well, maybe I should do it.” I created a menu even though I did not have a business plan – I started with only one menu.

I asked my very good friends Sheiley and Hector to review my ideas for African Chop Truck. At the time, I was having a hard time and I did not have the funds to start the business. But after talking to Hector, he raised the funds for it. I do not know why he believed in me, he just did it and loved the ideas so much. Starting the African Chop was a big life-changing event because we were and still are the only West African food truck in LA and it was truly embraced by the community. That’s how we started – brainstorming ideas, getting Hector to help fund the whole process, and the African Chop Truck was born.

From left to right, Sheiley, Opportune and Hector stand side by side in a kitchen with white cabinets and white tiled backplates.  They all smile and look at the camera.  Sheiley and Opportune are wearing black chef shirts, and Hector is wearing a red one.

From left to right, Sheiley, Opportune and Hector get ready to make puff puff in their kitchen. | Natural History Museum in Los Angeles County

The truck is not driving now due to the pandemic, but before there was a neighborhood you preferred to visit?

One of my best places was Downtown LA because to me it’s almost like one of the places that makes LA what it is. It’s not where we got the most money, but it’s where we got the most love. I saw every race in Downtown LA and people wanted to be educated about the food – they asked about how our food could be eaten and they worried about the product. Granted we would cover Los Angeles County, but this was the one place where it felt like I was doing what I was supposed to – sharing West African food.

Can you tell me a little more about the communities you serve?

To be honest, when we first made the business plan, we did not try to focus too much on catering to Africans because they already know the product. But what ended up happening is that our society became the first generation of Africans born here in LA or in America – these are the people we serve the most. They were very fascinated by African Chop and passionate about it. For them, this is the food their mother and father know. They were so excited about the African Chop Truck that we found out they would chase us and look for us everywhere we went! I had a client who would drive all the way from Long Beach to meet us in Santa Monica. Wow! Just so they can get our food.

A woman holds up an orange bowl full of golden-brown puffs - perfectly round balls of fried dough that look much like a tennis ball.

Opportune Akendeu from African Chop Truck has a fresh batch of puffs. | Natural History Museum in Los Angeles County

How do you think the push you make binds people in the community together?

So puff-puff is the smallest, but the most talked about item on the menu – not only because it’s only a dollar, but also people ask questions about the name. It’s a conversation starter because many people automatically think we have something else in the puff-puff, like maybe some CBD products because of the name. But the reason we call it puff puff is because it’s just around and it’s puffy. We explain what a puff puff is and share that it is like bread so to speak, but just in a smaller dough. Ultimately, it’s breakfast and the first thing you eat in the morning. It’s something you share with your neighbors, easy for families to share, or something to share with friends – even now it’s an easy meal to make.

Four people, three adults and a child, gather around a small breakfast table in glass and out of an orange bowl of puffs.  They all hold one in their hands and laugh together.  The child takes a bite of his puff.

The African Chop Truck team enjoys puffs together. | Natural History Museum in Los Angeles County

What is your favorite part of the puff baking process?

Surprisingly, it is not a baking process, it is actually a frying process. When the puff pastry rises, get ready to start frying it in shallow vegetable oil. You fry it and voila! It’s ready in ten minutes. So it’s interesting bread – not your usual bread.

But my favorite part is making the balls! So there are different techniques with how to drop the dough in oil. You can either drop it down or upside down. Mastering how to get it around is my favorite part, because as you can see, this dough and it is somewhat sticky. So if you have mistakenly shaped it incorrectly, the puff will look different. This is the moment where you really define the process, because the puff must be round – it is meant to be round. Not to say that if it is not round and then it is not good enough to eat, but the puff puff is about its appearance, so dropping the dough into the oil is my favorite part.

A close-up of a pot of bubbling hot oil with golden yellow puffs floating on top.  Opportune's hand is in the frame, covered in raw dough, while she squeezes the dough out, creating a perfectly round puff in the pan.

Opportune demonstrates its ability to lose dough and creates perfectly round suction in the hot oil. | Natural History Museum in Los Angeles County

Are there any memories or emotions that arise while making puffs?

When I was growing up in Cameroon, puff puff was sold next to the road and it was something that brought the community together. We would go to the road in the morning to get puff puff. We would eat it with beans and cardboard – cardboard is a type of porridge made from corn. But puff puff was the main course; without puff puff you can not eat cardboard because it just does not taste the same. It’s funny because we were all Cameroonians from different tribes. So next to the road you had the Muslim women from the north, other women from the west – but all made puff puff. There are probably five or six or ten different women on the street who are breathing – enough to take care of the whole community! You would see mothers, children and fathers just sitting on benches and eating their puff at the roadside.

It’s great to get to a first world country like America, and puff puff can still do the same thing – maybe in a different environment, but it does the same thing. We still eat it and have conversations. That’s why I say puff puff is a conversation starter.

Opportune Akendeu is wearing a completely black chef's suit.  She is standing in a kitchen next to a counter where she mixes a metal bowl with puff dough.  She stirs the dough with a wooden spoon and smiles at the camera.

Opportune Akendeu in the kitchen. | Natural History Museum in Los Angeles County

Is there anything else you would like people to know about the community you serve?

The one thing I always cry over and why I love LA is that the community we serve is not just one community. Yes, we have served the first generation of Africans, but we all serve. Asian Americans and Latinos love our food – and when I say love, they’ve excited about it. It’s beautiful to see that we are all able to eat together, and whether we are acquaintances or not, we are somehow able to identify ourselves as human beings – and it does not matter where we come from. So it’s really great to serve a community that embraces culture. People are open to learning, trying and seeing themselves in the food we still serve – so for me it has been beautiful. I love the community in LA. They have been amazing to us and I can not wait to be back on the streets and have our place where we can continue to break bread.

It’s beautiful to see that we are all able to eat together, and whether we are acquaintances or not, we are somehow able to identify ourselves as human beings – and it does not matter where we come from.

Opportune Akendeu, African Chop Truck

To see what’s cooking at African Chop Truck’s, check out and stay tuned for their upcoming return to serve puffs throughout LA County.

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