Food and fashion are rarely spoken of in the same breath, but when it comes to model-turned-restaurateur Sarah Todd, the two go hand-in-hand. Born and raised in a small town in Queensland, Australia, Todd moved to Sydney after a modelling agency discovered her at the age of 18. Almost a decade into her modelling career, which took her to runways across the globe, she found her calling in food.
Trained in French cookery from Le Cordon Bleu, her culinary journey took off after a stint in MasterChef Australia in 2014. A restaurant in Goa, several menu curations, TV series and a cookbook later, if there was just one word to describe the former model, it would be unconventional. LF caught up with the celebrity chef to find out more.
Gucci to Gastronome
On her first international trip to Germany for a modelling assignment, Todd was lost and overwhelmed. The only thing she found comfort in was a creamy, cold cucumber dish. That's when Todd realised that “food is a language everyone speaks”. Globetrotting as a model exposed her to several cuisines, and she developed a love for food culture that she had not known before. Today, her favourite food destinations are Kashmir and Tokyo.
Runway Model to Restaurateur
It was only after her son was born that Todd really donned the chef's hat. To ensure that he only eats the most nutritious meals, the single mom began experimenting with recipes. “It wasn’t until I started cooking that I felt that passion ignite,” says Todd. Despite a successful modelling career, Todd realised she wanted more out of her life and enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu. A MasterChef Australia runner-up at 27, Todd also gained professional experience working with Michelin-star chefs in London and hatted restaurants in Australia. The menu at her casual fine dining restaurant in Goa, Antares Restaurant & Beach Club, draws inspiration from Australian cuisine with a hint of Asian influence.
Todd's recreation of the Indian favourite aloo gobi on MasterChef Australia bagged her thousands of Indian fans. Her exposure to Indian culture comes from her former partner who is an Indian Punjabi. “His mother taught me all the Punjabi dishes,” says Todd.
Her favourite thing about Indian cooking is the “flavour”, she exclaims and says, “Indian food has changed my cooking style for the better.” Spices are Todd's most loved Indian ingredient. “They are so fresh and add such an amazing aroma and taste to dishes. I don’t think I can do without them now,” she said in an interview.
I Love My India
Her first visit to India was a two-week trip when MasterChef Australia was airing in the country. The warmth that she received made her fall in love with India and its people. Todd recollects a Facebook comment, “One woman said that I had been adopted as ‘India’s very own daughter-in-law’.” Apart from the food, Todd loves the country’s colour, vibrancy and energy. “Spending time in India is making me fall harder for this insanely diverse land,” she said in an interview. “I love Goa for its laidback lifestyle much like that of my home state of Queensland.”
Street Food Fan
Like the rest of us, even Todd cannot resist Indian street food. “Exploring street food is a wonderful thing,” says Todd, who has gulped down ten pani puris in one go at Mumbai’s Elco Pani Puri Centre. She also enjoys her share of vada pav, dosa and kheema which is also her son’s favourite along with “anda paratha”. Todd’s street food fascination reflects in the menu of The Wine Company, Gurugram, where she plays consulting chef. It features street-food inspired dishes such as Tom Yum Golgappas and Sun-dried Tomato Kulchas.
All of Todd’s culinary creations mirror her globetrotting ways. She believes, “Good food is good food no matter where it comes from.” The Aussie chef has a penchant for digging up regional recipes and reimagining them in her culinary language. “I believe in taking the essence of a region and incorporating it into the menu and interiors,” explains Todd, “It’s a sign of respect for the land and its people.” You can expect to find dishes like Madras Curried Lamb Tortellini and Curry Leaf and Soft-Shell Crab Bhajia in the menus she curates. Her cooking style is “based on French techniques, but the colours and flavours come from the diversity in Indian cuisines”.
The next thing on Todd’s gastronomic bucket list is to take notes from home cooking. “Learning from home cooks whose recipes have been handed down for generations is the best way to get inspiration,” explains the chef. Todd recalls the traditional lunch she had in a tribal Mising home during the making of the documentary, Awesome Assam with Sarah Todd, “The heart of the Mising home is the kitchen. The set-up was one that chefs around the world aspire to create. The cooking techniques include of the flame, slow-cooking, dehydrating and smoking, all of which are methods employed by chefs worldwide.” Todd was treated to the customary homebrewed Apong, a traditional rice beer along with Tupla Bhat, rice wrapped in plantain leaves, and some pork dishes. “I discovered that the Misings use a lot of local herbs in their cooking,” says Todd and adds, “My ultimate itinerary is to eat in more family homes to get a true sense of the local cuisine.”
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