Chef Sarah Todd opens her new bar and kitchen in Goa

Set amongst the ruins of a 200-year-old Portuguese villa in Vagator, Sanctuary serves global comfort food
Chef Sarah Todd opens her new bar and kitchen in Goa

It’s not easy to pin down Sarah Todd. Apart from designing recipes for restaurants, hosting pop-ups around the world and spreading her sauce line Hot Toddy, the Australian chef has been busy helming the newest restaurant in Goa — Sanctuary Bar & Kitchen. This marks the 36-year-old’s second stint in the sunshine state, after Antares, the restaurant she coowned with Ashish Kapur.

Excerpts from our conservation:

Welcome back to Goa. Can we call this your second homecoming or a fresh start altogether?

Thank you. It feels like a bit of both. When I first landed here 10 years ago, I was young and inexperienced. But I have grown over the years, evolved, changed and developed my skills. I have brought all that knowledge and experience together for Sanctuary. So, in a sense, it almost feels like a fresh start. Sanctuary is my love letter to Goa.


From cooking up Indian dishes like aloo gobi and bhel puri on MasterChef to opening restaurants in India and even writing a book on Indian cuisine… what is it about India that resonates with you?

I think I must have been an Indian in another life (laughs). It’s the strangest thing but I feel so at home when I am in India. It’s interesting since it is so different from the way I was raised. I also feel really lucky and special that I have been accepted.

Chef Sarah Todd opens her new bar and kitchen in Goa
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You have had a couple of setbacks in your restaurant business. How did you deal with all that?

I was raised by a family of very strong, independent women. So, I always felt like I didn’t need any help. But Covid was tough. Luckily, I had time with my son. But mentally and financially it was difficult. At some point, I got very low emotionally and had to work on myself. So, I started researching and signed up for The Hoffman Process, a week-long group therapy in the UK. I was with 24 strangers without my phone or even a book. Sometimes, we were not even allowed to talk to each other. No one knew who I was since I did it in the UK. The therapy involves a lot of meditation, visualisation and taking yourself to a happy place. It helps you to not judge people and forgive any wrong things that people might have done to you. The seven days really helped me calm my mind and move on from certain things. I also did a weeklong programme involving Ayurveda, meditation and yoga near the Ganges. So, last year was all about self discovery.

Tell us something about the food at Sanctuary.

The dishes are little glimpses of my journey over the last decade in India. They come to the plate with a little piece of me. There will be familiar elements of my cooking, but also unique ones. The menu is produce-led and uses local ingredients found in Goa. We have this really grand seafood platter with lovely recheadorice at the bottom. The paneer hara masala with fenny pickled zucchini on top is another favourite. The masala prawns with herb salsa has been a hit with everyone. And then there’s a very moreish dessert — tropical tiramisu with soaked biscuits, fenny, coconut cream and lots of fruits.

You have been in Goa for a decade now. How have you seen the state transform?

The street where I lived in Assagao used to have just one restaurant and it felt very quaint. Last evening, when I was driving down, I counted 70 boutiques and restaurants. How is that even possible? Goa has just exploded over the last couple of years. There is definitely a lot happening, but it still has these little pockets that are peaceful. Goa still has a soul to it. But I don’t know how people are getting in and out (laughs). I remember during Sunburn Festival, there was bumper-to-bumper traffic and I couldn’t get home. I had to sleep at the restaurant. I don’t know what’s going to happen now. We will probably have to bring out mattresses for people to sleep on.

You travelled the length and breadth of India for your second book, My Indian Kitchen. What was that like?

It was life changing.I went crab catching in the backwaters with a local family in Goa and cooked a beautiful crab xacuti. In a village in Rajasthan, I learnt to make bajre ki roti over fire with a local family. The kids were sitting on my lap, hugging me. I kept getting into trouble with the lady because I wasn’t doing it right. That memory is just visually imprinted in my mind. I’ll never forget the technique I learnt.

Cabana at Sanctuary
Cabana at Sanctuary

How do you look at your journey from MasterChef to Sanctuary?

I don’t want people to look at what I have done and think ‘oh it must have been easy,’ because it wasn’t . If people want to succeed in life, it is going to be hard. It was a big learning to finally realise that I don’t need to tie up everything in a bow and say life is easy and it’s all peaches. It’s not. It’s okay to feel sad, pain and loss at times. I was running away from these things, not talking about them. I think it also stems from certain things in my childhood. My dad left when I was two. When I feel lost, I connect it with the fact that my dad left. It’s only in the last 12-24 months that I realised I need to face my emotions head on. You move on much quicker when you face it rather than run away from it.

Lastly, how do you prioritise health between your travels and the tastings?

It may sound cliched but your mind is the most important. You can’t make good decisions when you are in a bad mental place. When I look at my pictures over the last few years when I was hurting the most, it showed on the outside as well. Honestly, all I have done is work on myself and small habits like getting up in the morning and doing a five minute stretch, it helps tremendously. Earlier, I would book 10 fitness classes in a week and stop it all halfway through. It used to make me so angry. I don’t do that anymore. I am now conscious of what I put in my body. As a chef, I eat everything as I am forever experimenting with new dishes. But I make sure to eat nutritious food.

Chef Sarah Todd opens her new bar and kitchen in Goa
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Rapid fire

Your favourite places to eat in India?

In Mumbai, I love eating bhelpuri on the beach, crabs at Mahesh Lunch Home, dosa at Dakshinayan and street style sandwich behind St Xavier’s College. In Goa, the fish thali at Vinayak Family Restaurant in Assagao is amazing.

The first Indian dish you made?

Kheema. It’s also my son’s favourite. A spice you love cooking with? Cumin is something I use the most. Even if I am making a simple Australian dinner of roast veggies, I throw some cumin on to my carrots.

Your go-to comfort food?

It’s the food that my mom and grandma used to cook, like corned meat with boiled vegetables.

Your inspiration?

Home cooks who work with recipes that are passed down through generations. Never really written in a book, or shared.

Favourite destination to travel to?

I love Japan. The food is really refined. Every chef cooks just one thing and that for me is amazing.

What next?

I am going to Japan to launch my sauce range there.

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