From down under

From down under

smitten with food

From down under
It is tedious to pack Sarah Todd within banal parenthesis. Or, prefix one job to her name. Restaurateur. Fashion model. TV personality. Presenter. Cookbook author. Influencer. Mother. The roles are neither chronological in order nor in preference. Sarah has been all this. A few tags dropped on the sidewalk called time. New tags picked walking alongside life.

I was curious about the journey of an Australian who dared to sink her toes into the restaurant business in India. Her first. The menu was not my fascination. Her journey from Australia to Goa, from a model and Masterchef contestant to television presenter to restaurateur. The cultural challenges. The woes of doing business. The anxiety of keeping afloat in a world where one out of every three restaurant downs shutters sooner than a wok can turn cold. Questions were marinating in my mind.

Sarah and I are town buddies. Kind of. She has a restaurant in Goa, I have a home. Antares is what she christened her tony eatery, which sits by the sea’s blue in Vagator Beach; the story of its making filmed as a six-part television series titled My Restaurant in India.

Her basic identity

By the time I flew home, prepped to shoot the questions, Sarah had flown back to Australia to juggle other roles. It was the fibre optics that connected us, and the questions found their answers. Sarah
began with the beginning. At 18, she started walking the ramp for luxury brands, travelling countries and soaking in their culture. And food. Yes, food. The four-letter word that rustled fame — and a new avatar — for this Australian.

That love for food prompted her to train in French cooking from Le Cordon Bleu. She then spent hours gaining experience alongside Michelin Star chefs Neil Borthwick and Angela Hartnett at Merchant’s Tavern in London, hatted restaurants Tonka and St. Crispin in Australia.

Then she tied the apron strings as a contestant in MasterChef Australia, Season 6. And one day, she cooked aloo-gobhi (potato-cauliflower curry) to impress the judges. No, not any Australian version of the oh-so North Indian curry. But the real Indian aloo-gobhi curry. That one curry inadvertently changed everything for Sarah. And began her tryst with India.

Indian connection

“Cooking aloo-gobhi basically put me on the map in India, and I generated a huge following throughout India. It enticed me to visit the country and made me fall in love with it. So much so that now I am spending half of every year in India,” says Sarah, who names cinnamon as her favourite spice and green as her favourite colour. Aloo-gobhi changed everything but that still is not her favourite Indian dish. Kheema (minced meat) is. She rattles off names of all the recent street cook-ups: vada pav, pani puri, frankies, pista kulfi.

My Restaurant in India follows Sarah as she leaves her comfortable life in Melbourne and heads to Goa to face the daunting challenge of setting up and running a 400-seat beach club and restaurant.
“Why Goa?” I ask Sarah. “Goa, stunning sunsets, tropical beaches, relaxing vibes, good food. What more could you want?” she answers. That love for Goa translated into a 10-episode adventure, travel and food series, as she travels and cooks her way around Goa, tasting local delicacies, taking elephant rides to health retreats and discovering local food.

The language was a barrier, the palate so different from what she knew. How did she cope? “Given how I’ve been travelling since the age of 18 — when working as a model — I was sort of ready to embrace our differences. And I guess, I sort of looked forward to learning about everything Indian. An open mind often makes adapting a lot easier,” she says.

Sarah smiles about it now, but she sure hasn’t forgotten that crazy moment when the water tank exploded on the generator. But that did not shatter her belief in her food-calling. She puts it aptly, “Cooking is not just about the recipes itself. You eat with your eyes before the food even comes close to hitting the lips. Therefore, I believe it’s just as important to make your meal look beautiful.”
Two television series and a restaurant, but Sarah Todd is not ready to step out of the kitchen. Not yet. She is striving to make dining prettier.

“I’ve been so inspired by the colours and materials of India that I have now launched my very first table linens & tableware range called ‘Sarah Todd Living’. It is definitely a dream come true; I am totally enjoying this brand new designer role,” adds Sarah, as she crosses her fingers for Antares.

“We’re here today, and we want people to make good memories with us each time they walk into Antares. We’re striving for that, and I’m sure the math will work itself out,” she states. There are anxious moments, but for all those moments, aloo-gobhi, vada pav, pista kulfi come to Sarah Todd’s rescue.