Masterchef Australia Alum Sarah Todd Talks Us Through Her Desi Culinary Journey

Alisha Fernandes , 07 Feb 2018

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#Mumbai hangs with this little giggler.

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Sunny mid-week lunches are a lovely use of time in general and even more so when you have someone as lovely as Sarah Todd for company. When I walked in to a cute little cafe in the village in Bandra, I was greeted with a massive pomegranate-stained grin courtesy her son and in an instant it felt like this was going to be less of an interview and more of a fun chat. And boy, do I love it when I’m right.

Always in awe of people who carry themselves with that sort of effortless grace, I caught myself appreciating that vibe about her as soon as we sat down. And it’s even more impressive when it’s someone like Sarah, who in many ways can afford to have airs about her, considering the kind of celebrity Indians give anything or anyone Masterchef Australia related. Currently on her third successful season in Goa with her restaurant, Antares, she has recently opened her second restaurant, this time in Mumbai called The Wine Rack and tbh it seems like she’s only getting started.

Excerpts:

Ashish Dev Kapur and Sarah Todd
Ashish Dev Kapur and Sarah Todd

So, lets start at the beginning. What twist of fate led you to open up a restaurant (now 2) in India?

I actually had a very clear goal as far back as Masterchef Australia; I knew that I wanted to open an Indian restaurant in Australia but somehow, the universe got it twisted and I ended up opening an Australian restaurant in India. And what a journey it’s been. I met Ashish Dev Kapur in Delhi socially a few years ago, and we didn’t even really talk shop or anything. It wasn’t until months later that I got a call from him out of the blue, saying that he was standing at a property in Goa and that he wanted to start a restaurant with me.

And what did you say?

At first I said, “You’re mad! I’m not opening a restaurant in India.” But he managed to convince me by saying that I would understand if I saw the place. So, I flew over and that was that. I stood in the property where Antares stands now, and I could picture everything!

How did the name Antares come about?

Antares is the brightest star in the Scorpius constellation and I’m a Scorpion. Plus Ashish and I both are into stars and numerology and we wanted a feminine name as well. We stumbled upon this name and we loved it. The restaurant has little influences of the star all around. So, it’s perfect. And the best part was that although Ashish mentored me, he never restricted me and only came in if things were looking like they were going to blow up. Otherwise, I had control over everything – the branding, the interiors, the menu, the staffing. I didn’t realise how much really goes into opening a restaurant. It’s nonstop. So with the interiors I was like, “You know what, everything grey, because I love grey.”  One day someone came in with a sparkly cushion and I just said, “No! Grey!”

That’s hilarious! It must’ve been challenging…

I started like a worker and became an entrepreneur, you know. So that was a huge change. Back then, I didn’t even know what a generator was and you have to know! You can’t run a restaurant in India without knowing what a generator is! It did take me a long time in the beginning to figure out the local palate. Whereas now, with The Wine Rack, I know what options have to feature on the menu, what flavours would do well, etc. But it’s taken me 3 hard seasons to figure it out

Why do you think that is?

It’s just because of different cultures. We grew up on different things. I literally grew up on boiled vegetables with no seasoning. That might sound disgusting to you, but for me, it was great. I remember this one time we visited an orphanage here and we took them frankies we had made, with the roti, salad, masala and lime. They ate everything and in the end there was the masala and the lime left. They actually put the masala on the lime and sucked on it! And I remember thinking “Oh my God! That’s what I’d do to my child to make him cry.” But it was this light bulb moment.

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Swigs and Swirls #WineDineDance #Repost @archdigestindia . . . 'Swirl, sniff, sip and buy’ is what defines Ashish Dev Kapur’s (@kapur_a ) recently launched restaurant, The Wine Rack (@thewinerackmumbai) at Phoenix Mills in Lower Parel, Mumbai. This wine haven—concealed in floor-to-ceiling glass walls—gives one the opportunity to not only taste but also purchase a wine bottle from a handpicked selection of 300 varieties sourced from 35 regions across the globe. Link in bio for the full feature #redwine #winetasting #winelover #winery #winetime #whitewine #instawine #winecountry #winelovers #winetasting #wineaddict #winetime #winepairing #mywinemoment #winewednesday #winedownwednesday #winesofinstagram #wineoclock #winemaker #winemaking #wineoftheday #winestagram

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Let’s get to the good stuff! Tell me about The Wine Rack. 

The great thing about the menu in Mumbai is that it uses a lot of local ingredients and flavours. A whole month of “research” went into this, and I put on 5 kilos. We were filming Serve It Like Sarah for Fox Life; in the beginning my pants fit and in the end they didn’t.

We wanted to pair Indian food with wine,  and show people that you can do that without any reason to be intimidated. For instance, we were drinking a glass of red one day and thought to ourselves that duck would go perfectly with it.

Give us some recommendations…

Duck and cranberry kulcha
The Wine Rack kulcha platter
The Wine Rack kulcha platter
Raan Kohlapuri, served on a betel leaf, with avocado raita and boondi
The Wine Rack Raan Kolahpuri served on a betel leaf
The Wine Rack Raan Kolahpuri served on a betel leaf
Soft shell crab pakora served with a nam pla prik (Thai dipping sauce)
The Wine Rack Soft Shell Crab Pakora
The Wine Rack Soft Shell Crab Pakora
Chocolate chilli mousse
The Wine Rack Chocolate Chilli Mousse
The Wine Rack Chocolate Chilli Mousse

Personally, I know I can’t cook exactly how a local can, it’s in their blood for generations. So for me, it’s about taking influences, textures, flavours and elements

And before I let you go, I HAVE to ask about Masterchef Australia. How did it happen?

When I had my son, I became so obsessed with food, I’d come home after work and cook full 3 course meals – entree, main, dessert. I was obsessed. And at all the kiddie parties, I became the crazy cake lady. One time, I was so sick, lying in bed unable to move, but I made this cake, and I told my partner at the time  “Just take the cake, take the cake!”

At that time we were living in London because I was modelling there and then I decided to go to Le Cordon Bleu, London. So I did that and honestly by then we’d been there over 2 years and I was so over the cold so I asked my ex whether we could go back to Australia if I applied to Masterchef and got in. And he said okay. And then I got in.

What about the experience?

A lot of people couldn’t handle the pressure because it is as real as you see it on the television. To cook something in one hour that’s that extravagant is very hard. And you live in a house with the other participants, away from the outside world, so you tend to take the competition very seriously. But also, because you don’t have any distractions in that environment there can’t be a better apprenticeship than that.

What’s the one Indian dish you can’t get off your mind RN?

We ate laal maas in Rajasthan every day that I was there and I could go back just for it.

And finally, what is the biggest change you foresee in the Indian food and beverage market?

It has to be smaller, cuisine-specific menus, which means greater dishes, but less variety of cuisine within one restaurant.

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