Why raising the bar is this Chef’s first law of business
Liverpool city centre has witnessed a dining boom in recent years, with Bold Street and Castle Street two prime examples.
We spoke to a leading light of the city’s independent led restaurant revolution, Nisha Katona, of Mowgli.
Here, the former barrister talks of why she swapped the heat of the courtroom for the kitchen, the lessons she learnt, her mother’s influence and her love for ‘matriarchal Liverpool’.
Plus, we discover which Game Of Thrones character may be seeping into her ambitions to take her twist on Indian street cuisine national…
Nisha, You were a qualified lawyer. Why did you turn to opening a restaurant?
Food has always been my passion. While a barrister, I wrote my first cookbook Pimp My Rice and taught Indian cooking for years.
The dishes in Mowgli are my family regulars and my favourite ever dishes. I felt, if I needed to eat them 3 times a week, then maybe others might understand my addiction
So, why Bold Street?
I did battle for over 18 months to take a small pitch in a kiosk in Liverpool ONE but independents do not have the heft to muscle their way into such hallowed ground, which still saddens me.
I then parked in Bold Street on a daily basis and counted customers to Leaf and Bold Street Coffee which were then, the only established, thriving hip independents.
I thought, even if Mowgli feeds off the crumbs from Leaf’s table, we might just survive. God works in mysterious ways. One door closed and a far better one opened.
And the name Mowgli?
Mowgli is the pet name I have for my girls. It is a term of endearment in the Indian Language for a feral child. It is a word that is full of love for me and hence I have always seen the restaurant as my third daughter.
Have you been pleased with how it was received?
It is so humbling that it actually scares me. Keeping the high standard and not letting the clients down is my perpetual anxiety. Complete consistency of food with a home from home front of house experience is something we can never let slip.
You’ve branched out to Manchester and from this September Water Street. Why the Commercial District?
It’s my old stomping ground. I spent 20 years as a barrister on those roads for which I have so much affection. My legal colleagues can’t make it up to Bold Street and back over a lunch break and so I thought if the mountain can’t come to Mowgli…
You recently gave an inspiring speech to the Women in Business Awards. Do you think Liverpool is female-friendly?
That speech was the most terrifying I´ve ever given and I made speeches for 20 years in front of some judges for whom “Barrister humiliation” was a blood sport! Within minutes, when the audience clapped me mentioning my mum, I realised that this city was one that embraced women talking openly about ambition and more importantly about vulnerability, frustration and endeavour.
I love this city. The catholic heritage is similar to the Indian one, one full of matriarchs, one full of respect for strong and emotionally expressive women.
Your mother is an inspiration to you. How important is it to have a role model in business?
Critical. My mother had an indefatigable work ethic as many first generation immigrant Indians do. She was a full time GP and raised myself and my brother, our pets and my father and she cooked for all our teen mates who used our home as a soup kitchen.
I´d have given my right arm for a real female business role model who was in this industry. There are very, very few and I understand why, but that’s a whole other lecture!
Knowing what you do now, what piece of advice would you have given to yourself at the start of this adventure?
It is an incredible truth but I can honestly say I would change nothing. I love every part of the journey so much, it does not feel like work at all.
My forte is actually knowing what I’m NOT good at and delegating. This comes at a cost but you buy your mental health, your time, and your pride is kept in check. I hired a General Manager to build me a restaurant system before I even had a restaurant. I am the executive chef and so every single dish is mine and under my tyrannical control.
What was the best advice you were given?
To be plan led not opportunity driven. I’m lucky enough to be in a position to grow Mowgli but I need a strategy to my pace and need to stick to it.
So, after Water Street? What’s next?
I’m unashamed in my ambition to take Mowgli national, if the nation wants us. “London after Leeds” is my mantra, as my head is turned by other incredible cities daily!
Leeds should open this Winter and we´re actively seeking sites in London. That way we build an opening team for the south which means we can move with pace if required. We already have a strong launch team in the north. OK, I’m sounding more and more like a character from Game of Thrones every day, I hope Tyrion Lannister though and not that egotistical psychopath Ramsey Bolton!
If you could change one law affecting businesses. What would it be?
Staff tips should be for staff. But thankfully those wheels are in motion.