Masterchef Australia star Sarah Todd’s latest cookbook covers Indian traditional delicacies with an Australian twist
Australian Chef Sarah Todd, who juggles her career as a celebrity chef, model, restaurateur and cookbook author, has a long connection with India. When she came to India for the first time in 2015, she fell in love with the people, food and culture. She was not only welcomed here but her fans coined her: India’s daughter-in-law. The last six years have been exhilarating for her as she found opportunities and experiences that resulted in opening her first restaurant, Antares in Vagator (Goa). While travelling across India for the last six years, she explored the diversity of the cuisines in each state. From staying with tribes in Nagaland to participating in a cultural festival in Kashmir and cooking freshly caught Crab Xacuti with a family on the banks of a river in Goa, Sarah spent quite some time learning different facets of Indian culture and tasting and learning to cook traditional delicacies. It was during her long stay in India that she got the opportunity to reflect on her experiences which led to her new cookbook, My Indian Kitchen.
With over 47 healthy Indian and Indo-fusion dishes including Jackfruit Curry Tacos, Goan Fish Curry and Pork Vindaloo and an array of easy sweet treats, Sarah’s book promises to engage our senses and delight the palate with tempting dishes that celebrate food and family. Inspired by everyday people and their food, the recipes present a twist of street and homemade food and ingredients sourced from the most unexpected places in India; with a hint of Australian techniques to add Sarah’s personal touch. On a phone conversation from Australia, the MasterChef star tells us more about the objective behind writing My Indian Kitchen, the research that went into it and what it takes to play these many roles successfully. Excerpts:
How did you choose the recipes that made it to the book?
This book is targeted towards young adults and people who are not familiar with cooking diverse Indian food. My book goes back to basics, so it is perfect for home cooks who do not have a lot of experience in the kitchen. Anyone can cook these recipes. I really hope people gain inspiration to make these dishes their own. I also believe it will inspire the experienced home cook to experiment with traditional Indian recipes.
Dishes from across India are combined with Australian cooking techniques in the book, was that intentional?
It is about utilising Australian techniques such as grilling and barbecuing along with classical French techniques to highlight how adaptable Indian food can be. This is a style of cooking that I developed over time.
How did your love story with Indian food begin?
My love affair with India and cuisines from all across the sub-continent began about 10 years ago when my son was born. His father is Punjabi, and it was through him that I was introduced to authentic Indian food. It was unfamiliar but the flavours were intense, and I instantly fell in love with them. I lived with Phoenix’s (son) grandparents for nearly two years and spent many hours in the kitchen. I believe it is a bunch of cuisines that the world can take a lot of inspiration from.
What is your favourite Indian food?
This is a difficult question to answer because I have a favourite dish from every region; Laal Maas and Bajre Ki Roti from Rajasthan, Xacuti from Goa, Kashmiri Spinach from Kashmir, Chhole Bhature from Delhi, Bhel from Mumbai, Madras Curry and the list goes on.
Do you think formal training is essential to be a successful chef?
I think you need to do some form of training to become a professional chef. And if you want to get to a stage where you can be creative and develop menus, you need to have a broad range of interests. So, in order to maintain a large repertoire, I would recommend some training.
From being a model to becoming a chef and now an author, it’s a big transition, how did it happen?
I decided I wanted to become a chef when I was 24. I remember having a break during a modelling job and realising that it just was not stimulating enough. I wanted a career that fuelled my soul. My son was about a year old and I felt if work was going to take me away from my son, it had to be fulfilling. That is when I enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu in London and the rest is history. As for becoming an author, after travelling throughout India for the last six years, I thought it was time to return all the love I have received from this country.
Lately, you have been advocating sustainable eating; please tell us a little about that?
Sustainable living is definitely not a trend, and it’s here to stay; it’s something we need to do to save the planet and stay healthy. In terms of a food revolution, it’s changing the industry and making people focus on produce. I’m even doing this with my son — planting seeds in the garden, watering them every day, watching them grow — and showing what it takes to get these ingredients onto our plates and how crucial the zero-waste system is.
How do you stay fit?
The trick is to balance it. I don’t cut anything out of my diet and eat everything. When I want to indulge, I do. But most of the time, I have nutrient-rich food with lots of fresh produce and prefer balanced meals. I’m currently 15 kilos heavier than when I was a model, but I have made my peace with that and accepted this as my natural body.
From Her Table
Favourite dish to eat:
All street foods in India. I miss searching for the best local street food stalls in a city. But I also love a comforting kheema and the versatile saag.
Favourite dish to cook:
Pavlova, an Aussie classic! A simple recipe but very difficult to get right. A recipe that we’ve perfected at home.
Best cuisine in the world:
Japanese food. Precise, delicate, thoughtful and each dish serves a purpose. Very forward cuisine.
Best place to eat in India:
Vinayak Family Restaurant, in Asagao (Goa). You can’t beat their incredible Goan fish thali.