Australian model-turned-chef Sarah Todd, who rose to fame by participating in the 6th season of MasterChef Australia, talks about her love for Indian cuisine and the three fine dining restaurants she heads in the country. Vinayak Surya Swami takes notes
As I happily munch on hearty snacks in at the restaurant The Wine Company in the capital, I can’t help but notice that all the dishes – right from the sun-dried tomato kulcha (an Indian bread made from flour, milk and butter)served with hummus to the goat cheese churros – have a unique texture and flavour profile. Goa-based Sarah Todd, the chef behind the spread, points out, “Every dish that comes out of my kitchen has to be wholesome.” I take her word for it. Being a former model in Australia, Todd is no stranger to the importance of healthy and nutritious food. Her claim to fame, however, has been participating in the 6th season of MasterChef Australia in 2014, where she whipped up the quintessential Indian dish of alu gobhi (a stew of potato and cauliflower). “India is at the heart of my kitchen,” she says, and continues, “I was introduced to the cuisine by my Punjabi mother-in-law. Interestingly, it was in India that I realised my entrepreneurial dream; I’m heading three specialty restaurants here – one in Goa (Antares), another in Mumbai (The Wine Rack) and the third in Gurugram (The Wine Company).” And she comes with experience too. Before arriving in India, she trained with some of the best names and institutes in the culinary business around the world, including the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu. Mother to a smart sevenyear-old son, she has written a book titled The Healthy Model Cookbook and hosted several television series documenting her travels in India.
Would you say that with your restaurants you have broken the notion that Indian food does not pair well with wine?
think that internationally Indian food is conceived as an option meant for quiet dinners at home. So, with all the dishes that I have created, I’ve tried to show the world that an experience with Indian cuisine can also be one of fine dining, which can be enjoyed with a glass of wine. Pairing is simple. Flavours should complement each other and not be contradictory. For example, an extremely flavourful and heavy curry does not pair well with a light pinot as it will overpower the dish. You can pair red wine with a tuna dish where the fish has been marinated in strong flavouring ingredients. That is what we have tried to show with our menu at The Wine Rack; it’s actually amazing. We have tried to build it as a place for not just wine connoisseurs but for everybody, even those who just want to enjoy a glass of frozen Rosé, like we do at The Wine Company. We wanted to show the people that an experience does not have to be complicated for it to be enjoyable.
You’ve mentioned that coming to India was not the initial plan…
It’s true. But then again, I have had some of the most amazing experiences of my life in India; I’ve even brought my family here. And although I keep travelling back to Australia, returning to India feels like coming home. Given the chance, I’d like to stay and work here for as long as I can. If you had asked me what I would be doing five years ago, I would have had no idea of what to say. I never predicted this but I wouldn’t change even the smallest thing. I’ve learnt so much and am still learning; I’ve grown as person and I love it here.
You have mentioned (and repeatedly so) that at Antares, you were a trainee first and then became an entrepreneur. How has that journey been?
Honestly, it has been fantastic. To grow from a trainee to an entrepreneur is, I feel, one of the hardest transitions. As a trainee, you are looking for reassurance and you are always aware that if you fail, there is someone to break the fall. But now, I’m the person everyone is coming to for suggestions and problems and it’s me who has to come up with solutions. I did face a few setbacks in the beginning but I worked through all of them. It was a tedious change for me and took almost 18 months of managing my own restaurant before I was able to ‘get in my groove’, or so to speak! (Laughs)
In your book, you mention the meals that you cook for your son are both delicious and nutritious
I travel and tend to eat out a lot. Therefore, my aim has always been to have a balanced meal. If I’m ordering something nonvegetarian, I try and include a lot of vegetables in it. I always have a light and healthy breakfast and add plenty of greens like spinach and broccoli to something as simple as eggs and toast. Often, breakfast can be an unbalanced meal, with an unnecessary amount of carbohydrates, which is not healthy, as a nutritious meal needs to have the right amounts of proteins, minerals and carbohydrates. With Indian food, it’s very easy to balance a dish because there are so many options available. For example a simple dish of roti and alu-gobhi can be balanced with the equally simple paneer (cottage cheese). Balance is one of the most important aspect of any dish, if you are looking to up the ante on nutrition without compromising on the flavour.
Is your son Phoenix as fond of Indian food as you are?
Oh yes! Paratha (shallow-fried flatbread) and eggs are his favourite breakfast dishes. And like me, he also loves any keema (minced meat) preparation!
What are your plans for the future?
I love food, and I love the industry as well. I want to keep exploring different products and trying different things that will make people’s lives easier and healthier. I want to open new restaurants; I love managing eateries as it’s just so rewarding. As of now, we’re actually working towards revamping Antares and getting it up and running.