“Had I done it as a younger man, it would be a different story,” says Akwasi Brenya-Mensa, recalling his recent experiences as tour manager for musicians. “Working with food is more wholesome.”
Soon to turn 40, Brenya-Mensa spent years on the road with his job, eating his way around the world from Seoul to Soweto: “Food is an integral part of people’s culture and I’d immerse myself. Initially, I’d go on my own, to smaller chef-owned places so I’d be able to speak to people. But it became a group effort. People would say: ‘I looked this up or saw this on Anthony Bourdain.’”
Those adventures fed into the 2019 launch of supperclub Mensa, Plates & Friends. Previously, while running a club and event production company from Sheffield, he launched burger brand Juicy Kitchen, which graduated from street food markets to catering at big events. In spring, Brenya-Mensa will launch his first restaurant, Tatale, at London’s Africa Centre.
Brenya-Mensa stresses that he is not a chef. Instead, he is a keen cook and diligent researcher. Juicy Kitchen, he explains, was an exercise in curiosity. “I took a scientific approach experimenting with buns, beef cuts, blends and sauces.” Lately, he has worked at Seven Sisters takeaway Waakye Joint, and James Cochran’s 12:51 restaurant to gain kitchen experience. Brenya-Mensa plans to appoint a head chef while managing the space and overseeing dish and menu development.
The London son of Ghanaian parents, Brenya-Mensa’s menus will initially focus on contemporary versions of west African dishes, including “red red” stew; black-eyed bean hummus with red palm oil and dukkah; and mashed omo tuo rice cakes in peanut nkatenkwan soup. But by gradually expanding its menu and hosting themed events and guest chef collaborations linked to the Africa Centre’s exhibitions, Brenya-Mensa wants Tatale (named after a Ghanaian plantain pancake), to have an ultimately pan-African scope.
“Sometimes I’m awake at night thinking, ‘don’t fuck this up’, but I’ve been in high-pressure situations most of my professional life,” says Brenya-Mensa. “I’ve got time to make it really good.” Tony Naylor