Five minutes with… Nisha Katona

The former barrister and owner of Mowgli Street Food Restaurant on the Cobra Collective, English mustard and the works of CS Lewis

People 3 Feb 2020

Nisha Katona, the former barrister and owner of Mowgli Street Food Restaurant
The Cobra Collective. From left to right: Michelin chef Andrew Wong, MasterChef host Monica Galetti, beer sommelier Ed Hughes, restaurateur Nisha Katona MBE, and content creator, Alexandra Dudley
Mowgli Street Food in Liverpool

Can you explain a bit more about the Cobra Collective and your involvement in it?

The Cobra Collective is an initiative launched last year by Lord Karan Bilimoria (founder and chairman of Cobra Beer). We’re a collection of hospitality enthusiasts with the same heart, who want to share our success journeys, including the highs and the lows, the peaks and the troughs, with a marvellous seam of business adventurers who may want to join our industry. The landscape is an exciting one and we want to share that with zeal. This initiative is set to revolutionise the hospitality industry by injecting inspiration and knowledge into those most hungry for success.

On 27 February 2020, I’ll be hosting the second Cobra Collective free masterclass, themed How to create and grow a brand within hospitality, at Mowgli Street Food in Liverpool, Water Street (3.30pm – 5.30pm). It’ll be a Q&A with DJ Phil Williams and a chance for anyone looking to advance their career in the hospitality industry to hear about my journey. Also, to ask me those burning career questions and try some delicious food paired with Cobra beers.

How have the skills you learned as a barrister helped you in your new career?

I think having any career and having age on your side is great for business. It teaches you which battles to fight. It teaches you that the contentment of your people is the most important facet of any business. For me, the law also taught me how to negotiate all my own land deals and how to stand strong when I need to stand strong, but the better lesson is to strip you of your pride so that you also know when to concede.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given in your career and why?

I remember very well the phrase that is used in the north: “What is for you, won’t go past you”. Having this faith that if the door closes, it closes for a reason really liberates you from any anxiety of missed opportunity. One must do one’s best, work one’s hardest and be the kindest you can. After that, the opportunities that open up are the ones that are meant to be. The failures are just a way to redirect you onto the right path. It’s very deeply philosophical, but it means I sleep at night.

Who is your role model and how have they influenced you in your work

I have very fond memories of Tim Bacon, who is one of the founders of Living Ventures. He was a man that taught me that a true affection for your teams is the most important foundation to building your business. This language of affection and love is very important. Happy chefs provide beautiful food; happy teams fill a restaurant with joy.

What ingredient can you not live without and why?

Cumin and English mustard are the cornerstones of really good Bengali cooking. English mustard is almost radioactive in how it can transform a dish into something that dives straight into the endorphins. Cumin can be treated in eight different ways to provide 800 flavours!

What item, apart from your passport, can you not travel without?

Astral face cream. Cheap as chips but my skin is addicted to it.

Where is your favourite place to eat in London and why?

Shibuya – a tiny place on Shaftesbury Avenue. I’m an enormous sushi fan and they do the best botan ebi – the giant king prawns are soft, sweet and daring. The rice is just the right amount of sweet and warm. This is all very difficult to achieve with sushi. They do it so well.

What do you like to do on a day off?

I like to eat out, go to the theatre and hack my horse out on a day off. That is living the dream.

Apart from food, what are your biggest passions?

I have a massive passion for the classical arts. I’m married to a classical guitarist and so have a real love for opera and theatre and classical music but also galleries and museums. I love to see how different eras weave their unique colours through the visual and musical arts.

If you could choose anyone from today or history, who would be your ideal dinner-party guest and why?

I very much love the writing of CS Lewis and sometimes really feel an aching sadness that I could never meet him. Sometimes I feel like hugging his books when I close them at night – I’m not talking about the Narnia books. I’m talking about his profound essays. I love his brain and I love the accessible beauty of his language.

Secure your place on the Cobra Collective masterclass by registering on Eventbrite here. Follow the entire Cobra Collective journey on Instagram @cobra.collective