Thrillable Hours: Nisha Katona, Curry Evangelist

Interview with former lawyer Nisha KatonaWelcome back to Thrillable Hours, my interview series about alternative careers for lawyers.  Nisha Katona is a former lawyer who now focuses on food — both with her new book Pimp My Rice, and her restaurants in the UK. Her in-depth bio is at the bottom of this piece. 

I reached out to Nisha’s publicist to be featured on Legal Nomads and she responded with the answers below. I am very happy to also include interviews with non-US or Canadian lawyers, as the series has definitely been focused on attorneys in America. As always, if you have any recommendations for the series, please send them my way.

For those who missed it, the most recent Thrillable Hours before Nisha was Andrew Comrie-Picard, a race car driver.

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Interview with Nisha Katona

Nisha Katona, author of Pimp My Rice

Nisha Katona. Photo credit: Good Things Magazine

What made you decide to follow a less conventional path than typical law school graduates? Was there a particular moment that catalyzed the decision for you?

I practiced as a full time child protection barrister for 20 years. The demolition of funding for representation by government meant that we barristers witnessed depressing false economies, where litigants in person would do bloody and protracted battle over matters that legal representatives could have negotiated and settled in a tenth of the time with a tenth of the long term damage caused by the fight. Hence, Barristers you will find, are often looking for another way.

The profession is one that is not valued by the government, and to seek an income for the work we did, was seen as a rude travesty.

For may years in tandem with my life as a barrister, I taught Indian cookery, started to write my book, launched my YouTube tutorial channel and filmed for Food Network — the step across was not difficult.

What do you find most fulfilling about your current job?

The fact that I can make a decision about a change I want to make, be it a new dish or a new price or a key strategy, and it is implemented that afternoon. We don’t have to mull it eternally in chambers meeting after chambers meeting, with different arguments from different and disparate interests, only to see no change occur as we were all to exhausted or the moment had passed!

Nisha Katona Mowgli Street Food

Do you have any advice for professionals who are interested in leaving conventional private practice but concerned about what is out there?

My advice is that the world does not owe you a living — the government did not owe lawyers a living and it is a lesson I took with me when I started to peddle my passion!

Look at your passions, your strengths, look at the market — is there a gap that you could fill?

If so then are you asking a reasonable fee to fill that lacuna?

If the answers are yes, then go give it a go while you are in private practice. Work hard, do both, test the waters — do not presume that the public will pay you to live out your hobby.

How did your legal education inform the way you see the world today? Do you still identify yourself as a lawyer?

I still identify myself as a lawyer as it defined me for 20 years and it was a job I loved to the very end. I loved my colleagues and want to remain in their tribe and so often I hide behind my identity as a barrister. What I learnt from my legal education was to feel a stream of thought or argument, and dynamically get on with arguing it, making it happen, trying to get the outcome I wanted.

This, translated into the business world, means that balancing acts and assessments are performed quickly and then I get on with the strategy.

Being able to assimilate both sides of an argument quickly and choose an alternate path gives one a quick turning circle even if we get things wrong.

What do you have to say to those who tell me lawyers can’t have fun?

Law was such fun, such a pleasure that I feel that I have not worked a day in my life. I found that Barristers are usually maverick, unruly, self employed, free minded spirits. Not having the shackle of a senior partner or working in units meant that a fun, happy approach to the job is usually easy to take.

Nisha Katona is a dedicated curry evangelist and founder of Mowgli Street Food, which is all about the fresh reality of Indian home cooking. Nisha’s first book “Pimp My Rice” was published in 2015 by Nourish Books. Nisha’s book aim’s to impart readers with the secret formulas of the Indian kitchen in the form of a rice bible. Prior to taking on the restaurant business, Nisha was a practicing Barrister in the area of child protection. You can find her on her blog, on Twitter, and on YouTube.