Interview with Lorna Nanda Gangotra from The Little Indian Kitchen

Find out what inspired Lorna Nanda Gangotra to leave a lucrative consulting career to follow her passion and start her own bistro, The Little Indian Kitchen – and how her career has flourished since.

What’s your career background?

After graduating with a degree in business studies I worked in a number of corporate blue chip companies in the management consulting, law and mobile telecommunications arena.

The internet bubble burst in 2000 and so instead of travelling the world with my redundancy package, I went on to do an MBA in International Business and consulted in the mobile telecoms world thereafter.

Did your career change after having children? And if so, how?

I actually changed career prior to having children and there were a number of reasons that made me take that big step to follow my passion of setting up a food business. 

The fact that we had decided to start a family helped: I didn’t want to be sat on a plane, train, airport lounge being pregnant nor did I want to continue with the commuter/rat race to and from work in London. 

As it was, I fell pregnant more or less as soon I opened my bistro in Wimbledon, The Little Indian Kitchen.

When I was heavily pregnant with my second child I decided to close the bistro and turned to focusing on farmers markets, which are close to our home in Surrey, and cookery classes in the comfort of clients’ homes. This gave me the benefit of reduced overheads and more time with my growing family. 

Why did you decide to enter Family Cooking Showdown?

I had previously been approached by a couple of TV production companies for a TV series, one involving Jamie Oliver’s series in the USA but I was heavily pregnant.

I always said I wanted to showcase and share my love and passion for authentic Indian food and if TV happens it happens and when the time is right… I was approached by a television production company at a food festival looking for passionate, family cooks.

I decided to go for it and five interviews later we were accepted and went on to be the best family cooks in Britain.      

How has your life changed after winning the competition?   

I’m still me, doing what I do, sharing my passion and love for food and cooking of real, fresh, authentic, locally sourced produce. It was great to highlight the authenticity of real homestyle Indian dishes on the show and get such fantastic feedback from the judges and viewers alike.

I’ve got a great following of interested parties from all over the globe especially now that the show is on Netflix… they all want my recipes!! I’ve even been invited to Hawaii to share my cookery skills and knowledge!

What inspired you to launch The Little Indian Kitchen?

That big grey cloud looming over my head whilst sitting on the tube most mornings heading into work and wondering what if I followed my passion and dream and love of all things foodie and plunge into the food world?!

My husband has also been a huge positive and inspirational influence in allowing me to pursue my foodie career path.

What’s been the biggest hurdles you’ve had to overcome in your business?

The challenge of balancing the demands of my family versus my business/work life – sometimes its a real struggle juggling family life and work commitments – there is quite a lot of weekend and evening work involved too.

Also learning to say no and not take on more than I’m physically capable of doing…old habits die hard!  

And your proudest moments?

There are a few. One is that Monica Galetti came and ate at my bistro in Wimbledon on a number of occasions. I didn’t know who she was as that was the year Masterchef started and we only realised when we saw her on television! For me it was the acknowledgement that I must be doing something right. 

I’m also very proud of hosting my first supper club in Central London at Asma Khan’s restaurant Darjeeling Express, it was not only a sell out event but I got a mention in the Evening Standard too – it was a roaring success.

Winning the title of the Best Family Cooks In Britain following our win from BBC2’s Family Cooking showdown was a huge achievement too – it gave many others hope and inspiration that anything you put your heart and mind to, you can do it – it was also a huge nod to my mother and late grandmother’s legacy of heritage cooking from the heart!

What makes your cooking different?

It’s straight from the heart, authentic and real food!. I use the freshest, seasonal local produce which gives the most amazing flavours, aromas and tastes – whether it’s an Indian or Italian dish I’m cooking or a full-on Roast… maybe with a slight twist of spice though!

Why is it important to you to work with farmers?

I love the concept of from field to fork. As a cook I know that I am getting the great flavour that comes from using fresh, ingredients. I know it’s healthier – which is something I especially care about as a mother.

So wherever possible I use the freshest, locally sourced produce be it poultry, meat, fruit or vegetables. Naturally ripened vegetables, herbs and fruit adds to the flavour of your cooking. The fact that there’s less transportation, refrigeration and hot housing involved benefits the environment, which are all factors which come into the added value of using locally farmed meat. 

There’s a growing rise in concern and awareness of food provenance – I know this on an anecdotal basis from customers – but the growth in sales of organic produce in supermarkets is another indicator.

As a local producer I welcome the fact that as a society we care more about what we eat and where it comes from. And as a mum, I’m so pleased that my children now also appreciate a lot more where food comes from and jump at any opportunity to come and stock up our supplies from the farmers.

Why is food so important to you?

Food has always been and still is the centre of everything in my family upbringing – we Indians believe that by sharing food and drink with people – we show how much we love and adore them.

It’s very cultural as food and drink relates to being happy and enjoying quality time with family, friends and loved ones. The kitchen is the heart of most Indian families and in my home, it is where you will find me or my mother… hence, The Little Indian Kitchen was born….

How do you balance your work around your family?

Being a mum of three and running a business is not easy. It does entail lots – yes lots – of juggling around with diaries, school runs, play dates, meetings, cooking, etc. and I do struggle to balance time spent on business and time with family but I do hope I’m setting a positive example for them – they are very proud of their mummy. That said, I wouldn’t have it any other way – it’s in my blood!

Where would you love to be in five years time?

I would love to have my own television series showcasing authentic homestyle cooking for all the family from babies to grandparents alike.

I also have a concept for travelling through India and showcasing the various cities, cultures, traditions and culinary varieties they have there – different regions in India have different cultures, foods, climates, languages and cuisines and not just your usual chicken tikka masala and naan breads!

There is so much more to it and I’d love to highlight it all and bring it into peoples’ homes.

And finally, what are your top cooking tips?

The more you cook with spices and herbs, the more confident you’ll become and get the best use out of them in building the layers for a curry masala base.

Learn the basics and you’ll be able to whip up meals in minutes with a little experimentation thrown into the mix too.

Reduce food waste and freeze any leftover chopped/minced garlic, ginger and chillies – place them in freezer food bags, flatten the pack and place in freezer – break a piece off as and when required in future cooking!

And where possible, try to use good quality, local produce.

You can find out more about Lorna and The Little Indian Kitchen here.