“If I had done it as a younger man, it would be a different story,” says Akwasi Brenya-Mensa, recalling his recent experiences as a tour manager for musicians. “Working with food is healthier.”
Brenya-Mensa, who will soon be 40, was on the road for years and ate around the world from Seoul to Soweto: “Food is an integral part of people’s culture and I would get involved with it. In the beginning, I went alone to smaller, chef-run places to be able to talk to people. But it became a group effort. People would say, ‘I looked that up or saw it on Anthony Bourdain.’”
These adventures fed into the launch of the supper club Mensa, Plates & Friends in 2019. Whilst previously running a club and events production company in Sheffield, he founded the burger brand Juicy Kitchen which evolved from street food markets to cater for large events. In the spring, Brenya-Mensa will open its first restaurant, the Tatale, in London’s Africa Centre.
Brenya-Mensa emphasizes that he is not a chef. Instead, he is an avid cook and diligent researcher. Juicy Kitchen, he explains, was an exercise in curiosity. “I took a scientific approach and experimented with buns, beef cuts, mixes and sauces.” More recently, he has worked at Seven Sisters’ takeaway Waakye Joint and James Cochran’s 12:51 restaurant to gain experience in the kitchen. Brenya-Mensa plans to appoint a chef to manage the space and oversee the development of dishes and menus.
The menus of the London son of Ghanaian parents, Brenya-Mensa, initially focus on contemporary versions of West African dishes, including “red-red” stew; Black-Eyed Bean Hummus with Red Palm Oil and Dukkah; and Omo Tuo Mashed Rice Cakes in Peanut Nkatenkwan Soup. But by gradually expanding its menu and hosting themed events and guest chef collaborations related to the Africa Center’s exhibitions, Brenya-Mensa wants the Tatale (named after a Ghanaian plantain pancake) to have an eventual pan-African reach.
“Sometimes I wake up in the night and think: ‘Don’t break this,’ but I’ve been in high-pressure situations for most of my professional life,” says Brenya-Mensa. “I have time to do really well.” Tony Naylor