Grime MC turns bakery owner – Samuel Mensah of Uncle John’s Bakery talks family business

I discovered Uncle John’s Bakery on social media a while ago and like all good journalists, I did my research and found it was a London-based Ghanaian family business. As a fellow London-born Ghanaian, I was intrigued by the business but also because, I couldn’t think of a commercial Ghanaian bakery in London, unlike Ghanaian restaurants which are not uncommon, if you know where to find them.

I was keen to find out more about this business and spoke with the director, Samuel Mensah and talk about his Entrepreneur Rising Star Black British Business Award (BBBAward) nomination. Samuel took over the business, which was founded nearly 25 years ago by his parents and is named after his father – Uncle John. Following the customary ‘so when were you last in Ghana?’ chat, when you meet a fellow Ghanaian for the first time, Samuel shared insights into how this baking business has risen.

Getting started

When did you get involved in the business?
In 2014 when I was 29. Before that I was building my music career as a grime / hip-hop MC and doing athletics but got injured.

Why did you get involved?
I knew the business needed a solid infrastructure and wanted to use my transferable skills from being in the music industry, like networking, to take the business to the next level. I didn’t publicise that I was part of the business initially.

Courtesy of: @unclejohnsbakery

What was the solid infrastructure the business needed?
We had to improve our digital presence, from our website to how we connected with our customers. I had to modernise our internal systems and build a strong team.

Were you resentful about leaving your music career behind?
There were lots of things going on in the streets and I wanted to show others there are ways to make something of yourself, outside of music and sports. Having a daughter also made me realise I had to help the business, not just for me, but for later generations.

Continue reading Grime MC turns bakery owner – Samuel Mensah of Uncle John’s Bakery talks family business

Spicy Jamaican Ginger Cake

There’s nothing like a moist and crumbly slice of ginger cake to satisfy the soul. As a child I loved ginger biscuits and that is when my ginger indulgence began. Jamaican ginger is renowned for its intense flavour and as the main ingredient in the popular Jamaican ginger cake recipe, this Caribbean cake has become a must have in many parts of the world.

I must say, I didn’t expect Caribbean desserts to feature at the annual Pop-up Africa event at Spitalfields Market in central London at the end of May, but thinking about it, Africa and the Caribbean do have an intertwined history, so it made perfect sense…

Described as “A unique interactive shopping experience inspired by Africa; ‘Africa at Spitalfields’ – promotes and celebrates all things African and African inspired.” I was looking forward to all the festivities and food on display from the African/Caribbean diaspora in London.  Having a sweet tooth my first point of call was to check out the desserts; you can never stock up on too many desserts!

spicy jamaican ginger cake receipe
Ginger spice: Photo: Stock Xchng (jeff1980)

A bit of food history….

It’s said that the roots of Zingiber officinale the tropical herbaceous plant, which produces the ginger spice originated in Asia. Used by the Indians and Chinese for its healing properties over 5000 years ago, you can guess that the rest of the world wanted a taste of this intriguingly pungent spice and Arab traders brought it to Europe. Once the Roman Empire fell, ginger nearly became obsolete. Between the 11th-13th centuries ginger made a European comeback and was said to be imported to the New World by Spanish conquistadors.  Ginger is s now grown in tropical countries across the Caribbean and Africa. From 1585, Jamaican ginger was the first Asian-originated spice to be grown in the New World and exported back to Europe.

spicy Caribbean ginger cake
You can never go wrong with some good old ginger cake…

While walking around the market I was scoping out which stalls to visit; Tantie Lorraine’s ginger cake was calling out to me. I love all things ginger and was eager to try this Trinidadian version of the ginger cake. A friend told me that ‘Tantie’ is a version of ‘Auntie’ used in some part of the Caribbean. In some African cultures the term Auntie is also used to address an older woman, who may not necessarily be your blood relative (as a sign of respect).

tantie def

There were various other cakes and cookies on offer but I only tried the ginger cake. I do regret not trying the chocolate Guinness cake though! An unusual combination which I’ve never had before; I’m not a fan of Guinness on its own, but do like it when mixed with something sweet, like Caribbean Guinness punch. If I knew Tantie Lorranie won a Great Taste Award for her rum and raisin brownies, I would have tried those too!

Jamaica ginger and Guiness cake recipe, Caribbean ginger cake

Caribbean ginger cake has been a staple dessert in the UK for years. On British Chef, Jamie Oliver’s YouTube channel, a quick recipe is demonstrated, but is it a real traditional Jamaican ginger cake recipe?

Have your say; watch the video and vote below…If you have a better recipe, post it in the comments section!

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