One of Katona’s many formative restaurant moments includes visiting The Ubiquitous Chip, which she went to when her Liverpool university did mock trials in the Scottish city. “What an institution, back then it was the centre of student life, The Chip”, she said.
Since then, she’s been a child-protection barrister, a cooking teacher, philanthropist, television presenter and founded and built the Indian street food chain, Mowgli.
Katona has also written four cookbooks, the most recent of which is 30 Minute Mowgli.
It features speedy and vibrant dishes including quick angry tandoori, million dollar dahl, and curries such as spiced butter bean or tamarind fish.
Katona has recently opened a London branch of Mowgli. She’s also looking after the launch of her first Scottish outposts: Edinburgh, which will be at 20 Hanover Street, and Glasgow’s 78 St Vincent Street.
After lockdown set-backs, these branches are both due to open in the middle of 2022, with Glasgow coming first.
“For many years people shunned Indian food”
They are hotly anticipated, which hopefully proves we’ve come a long way since the bad old days.
“Coming over in the Sixties, for many years people shunned Indian food, you were teased because of it”, she said.
“There’s no way a teenager would have a birthday party in an Indian restaurant, we were embarrassed by our food, it was seen as this dirty ‘other’ thing.
“At Mowgli, children choose to have their birthday there, grandmothers come in, it’s so touching.
“When me and my mum or auntie are in the restaurant, every spoonful we see people put into their mouths, we are humbled, thinking ‘oh my gosh, you like us’.
“You spend so much of your life wanting to be liked, feeding people so they would like you, it’s crazy”.
What will Mowgli in Glasgow be like inside?
As with all her venues, this hugely hands-on CEO will be responsible for designing the interiors, which feature wooden swing seats, tied to the ceiling with rope and fairy-light strung trees.
The Mowglis have an atmospheric look that’s based on the broken down temple behind Katona’s grandmother’s house in Varanasi.
“It was full of monkeys and vines, like something out of a film”, said Katona, who also founded The Mowgli Trust, which has raised over £900k for charity.
“The restaurant has to feel like an ancient temple rather than an Indian restaurant, so I wouldn’t trust anyone else’s hand because it comes from such a personal place”.
She’ll also be in Scotland to personally train the chefs, which she does at all of her restaurants.
“No question, these are my recipes and some of them are thousands of years old. There are certain techniques and tips that make them taste authentic,” she said.
“I take curry virgins. I’m not interested in getting an army of male Indian chefs to come and cook my food.
“This is about teaching Glaswegians who can’t cook curry but love it how to use these ancient recipes. So, when the first or second generation Indians die out and shuffle off our mortal coils, the recipes stay alive”.
What’s on the menu?
Mowgli features dishes that Indians eat at home and on their streets and are ‘a million miles away from the curry stereotype.’ Think dishes that are healthy, often vegan and always packed with fresh flavour.
The food menu at the other venues is broken down into street chaat, tiffin boxes, the house kitchen, street meats and the Hindu kitchen.
Mowgli will open on 78 St Vincent Street mid-2022.
A version of this article first appeared on our sister site. The Scotsman