TV Quickfire: Ex-lawyer Nisha Katona on Indian food show Recipes That Made Me
Nisha Katona (46) turned her back on a stable job to open her own restaurant – but, with her very own TV show about to start, she has no regrets. The food writer talks to Georgia Humphreys about the inspiration behind Recipes That Made Me
WHAT CAN VIEWERS EXPECT FROM RECIPES THE SHOW?
This is a lifting of the veil on ancient kitchen secrets that are dying out. We are losing our first generation of immigrants in this country from all nations, but particularly from the Indian sub-continent. Immigration rules have changed so that Indian chefs are not allowed over here. If people want to keep curry alive, they need to learn what the home kitchen secrets are.
AS AN INDIAN WOMAN, WAS THIS AN IMPORTANT SHOW FOR YOU TO MAKE?
It means everything to me. What I need is people to understand how my grandmother cooked. This is how we, as Indians, eat at home. We don't have a balti or a bhuna, and we don't have naan breads and poppadoms. That is something we created for you, and enjoy it, but if you want to know how Indians cook at home – really healthy, really delicious family food – then you need to watch this programme.
IT MUST HAVE BEEN EMOTIONAL AT TIMES, MEETING PEOPLE WHO HAVE FAMILY RECIPES THAT ARE SO SPECIAL TO THEM?
It's completely moving. They've had to really make that calculated effort to think, 'These are my nan's, my mum's secrets, am I really going to pass these on?' Indians are really not keen to do that, so it's very brave and gracious of them.
YOU HAVE TWO DAUGHTERS, AGED 16 AND 14. DID YOU TEACH THEM TO COOK FROM A YOUNG AGE?
What I love about Indian food is that it's the simplest cuisine. You have one pan, one spoon, you cook in 20 minutes, because you usually have a child on your hip. And that is exactly what I did. As soon as my children had a backbone and were able to sit, they would sit on the worktop next to me. Then, I remember for their seventh birthday, we got eight children round, eight camping hobs and we got them all to make a chicken korma. And they love it, because they're handling meat and chopping it and adding these colourful spices in. Boys and girls alike need to know how to cook with really meagre, humble ingredients.
DO THEY STILL SHOW INTEREST IN COOKING?
Completely. When I go out, they get the pans out and they raid my fridge and start cooking. It's really important they're fledged in that way. I think we can be a bit cautious. You don't want to give them knives, you don't want them to handle raw meat, heaven forbid they should handle chilli or a pan! But you watch them and then suddenly, you have created someone that can live and breathe when they go to university – they can cook.
YOU TRAVELLED AROUND THE UK TO FILM RECIPES THAT MADE ME. WAS IT CHALLENGING BEING AWAY FROM HOME?
You are so right. I'm running my business while I'm travelling around and if the girls can't find their shoes, even if I'm filming, I'll get the phone call, 'Where are my shoes? What time is horse-riding? Where's the dog food?' If you're giving your life to do TV things, you need to make things that are worth making.
YOU USED TO WORK AS A BARRISTER. DO YOU HAVE ANY REGRETS ABOUT GIVING UP THE SECURITY OF THAT JOB?
I don't regret it. I've got less security now than I've ever had, I'm earning less now than I ever did, but I know that I'm meant to be doing this. You watch this programme and all those contributors could open their own restaurants – really authentic home cuisine. And they should do it, because we as a nation want to taste that.
:: Recipes That Made Me starts on BBC Two on Wednesday August 15.