50 things we love about food right now | Food

“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.”

Akwasi Brenya-Mensa
Akwasi Brenya-Mensa’s restaurant, Tatale, opens in London this spring. Photography: Amit Lennon for Observer Food Monthly

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 its first restaurant, Tatale, at 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.” Lately, he has worked at the Seven Sisters Waakye Joint take-out restaurant and James Cochran’s 12:51 restaurant to gain experience in the kitchen. Brenya-Mensa plans to appoint a chef while managing the space and overseeing the development of dishes and menus.

A 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 thematic events and guest chef collaborations linked to the Africa Center exhibitions, Brenya-Mensa wants Tatale (named after a Ghanaian plantain pancake), to have an ultimately 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

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