Model-turned-chef Sarah Todd says she loves exploring and drawing inspiration from relatively unknown regions of India. The restaurateur reveals, “I get my greatest inspiration from eating with local families who generously invited me into their homes. It is these intimate affairs and stories that truly embody Indian food.”
In an interview with Todd who owns the restaurant Antares, in Goa, talks about her experiences in India, her journey in through the Indian food industry. Read excerpts:
Q: What attracts you to the culinary culture of India?
A: From the moment you step onto a street, whether it’s bustling Mumbai or a village out of the city, you are immersed in its colours, sounds, aromas, and energy. It is exhilarating. From homes to the street food hawkers and family restaurants, food is an integral part of India’s culture. Recipes are a family’s legacy handed down from one generation to another.
Some of my fondest memories are cooking with local families in Goa, Assam, and Rajasthan as they prepare these meals with love and technical perfection. It is awe- inspiring and I try to replicate this dedication to craft in my own recipes. India inspires me in many ways, from the warmth of the locals, the culture, the community spirit, and their propensity to enjoy themselves. If you’ve ever been to Antares, you’ll know what I mean!
This is what brings me back to India. I feel comfortable here which is why I call India my second home.
Q: Can you describe the moment you knew you wanted to quit your modelling career and venture into the culinary world?
A: I have always been creative and even while modelling I worked in other fields which kept me busy. In hindsight, I suppose I was always searching for a career that satisfied that creativity. It wasn’t until I had my son Phoenix, that I developed a passion for cooking.
Healthy food was always a focus, but I soon realised that, if I was going to get him to eat it, it also had to be tasty.
It was while I was modelling in London that I decided to enrol in the Diploma de Cuisine program at Le Cordon Bleu. I’d given myself a year to make it in the culinary world. I figured I was still young enough to go back to modelling if it didn’t work. I topped my class and after applying to MasterChef, I was accepted into the top 50.
Q: How do you manage to curate exotic Indian cuisine keeping in mind the sensitivities of the diverse population here?
A: I have travelled to many parts of India and its diversity never ceases to amaze me. Cuisine changes, not only from state to state, but village by village. I love exploring and drawing inspiration from relatively unknown regions of India. I get my greatest inspiration from eating with local families who generously invite me into their homes. It is these intimate affairs and stories that truly embody Indian food. I am also a street food junkie and India’s street food is second to none.
Q: How do you think we can uplift the food producers in India as well as Australia?
A: The provenance of food in Australia is becoming a trend. Many of us want to know where the food comes from, how it is produced, and delivered to us. Schools are now cultivating their own veggie gardens. Students understand how much hard work is needed to get the food onto the plate.
Australia is one of the most food secure nations in the world and exports 70 percent of our agricultural production. However, I think we take our farmers for granted and much needs to be done to support them.
Most restaurants now include the provenance of ingredients on the menu which creates a connection to the products and the producers. Buying local and seasonal produce is also a great way to support farmers. I follow this philosophy for my menus in India.
Q: Your experience at the Australian Open Chef Series ‘The Perfect Serve’?
A: ‘The Perfect Serve’ is a five-part documentary series that follows me, Analiese Gregory and Bo Songvsava as we undertake the daunting task of serving a five-course menu at the Australian Open. Viewers get an insight into the behind-the-scenes preparations and follow the journey across different countries, cultures, and cuisines.
It was an honour to be invited to be part of the first all-female AO Chefs Series which is one of Australia’s most prestigious culinary events. Australians know me from my time on MasterChef and the My Restaurant in India documentaries. However, my cooking style has changed dramatically since MasterChef. Because of my time in India, I developed a unique Indian Australian cooking style, and this would be the first time Australians would have the opportunity to try it. To be honest, I was a little nervous. I began to relax though when the plates came back to the kitchen empty. The response was amazing. Diners were treated to the best Australian produce with flavours of India that some had never heard of before.
Q: Being a single mother, what would you like to tell the ‘mompreneurs’ out there?
A: Women possess unbelievable inner strength, but it is inevitable that we have a sense of guilt when work takes us away from loved ones, particularly our children. Overcoming this guilt has been my biggest challenge, especially in the early days. It is important to master the art of work/life balance. I am still working on this but when I am with my son, he has all my attention. Now that he is a little older, he understands I must be away sometimes, and technology allows us to talk face-to-face.
As Mompreneurs our blood, sweat, tears, heart, and soul go into making our business a success, but we must also take time out for ourselves. If we are happy and healthy, that will have a positive effect on our personal and business relationships.
Q: Which food has taken you the longest preparation time till date? Was it worth the effort?
A: My dessert for the Australian Open Chefs Series in 2020 took three days to prepare. In keeping with the Indian theme, I created a dessert with serious character, inspired by the refreshing sol kadhi. It consisted of a layered dome paired with lychee and rose gelato. To add drama and personality I served it with a shattered rose.