“If I had done it younger, 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.”
Soon to be 40, Brenya-Mensa has spent years on the road with her job, eating across the world from Seoul to Soweto: “Food is an integral part of people’s culture and I would immerse myself in it. At first I went alone, to smaller places owned by chiefs so I could talk to people. But it became a group work. People were like, ‘I watched this or saw this on Anthony Bourdain.’
These adventures fueled the 2019 launch of Mensa, Plates & Friends supperclub. Previously, while running a club and event production company in Sheffield, he launched the Juicy Kitchen burger brand, which expanded from street food markets to catering to major events. In the spring, Brenya-Mensa will launch his first restaurant, Tataleat the Africa Center in London.
Brenya-Mensa points out that he is not a leader. Instead, he is an avid cook and an avid researcher. Juicy Kitchen, he explains, was an exercise in curiosity. “I took a science-based approach by experimenting with buns, cuts of beef, mixes and sauces.” Most recently he worked at Seven Sisters take-out Waakye Joint, and James Cochran’s 12:51 restaurant to gain cooking experience. Brenya-Mensa plans to appoint a chef while managing the space and overseeing the development of dishes and menus.
The London son of Ghanaian parents, Brenya-Mensa’s menus will initially focus on contemporary takes on West African dishes, including ‘red red’ stew; black 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 organizing themed events and guest chef collaborations linked to Africa Center exhibitions, Brenya-Mensa wants Tatale (named after a Ghanaian plantain pancake), to eventually have pan-African reach.
“Sometimes I’m awake at night thinking ‘don’t fuck it,’ but I’ve been in high-pressure situations for most of my working life,” says Brenya-Mensa. “I have time to do it really well.” Tony Naylor