Chef Sarah Todd talks about the farm-to-table food culture in Northeast India

Once you discover your passion, there is no stopping you. And this is certainly the case with Australian chef Sarah Todd. Sarah, who was once a model, is now a successful chef and a restaurateur. Todd rose to fame in 2014, when she was competing in Masterchef Australia. During her stint in the show, she made aloo gobi (an Indian dish made with potatoes and cauliflower) for one of her tasks. After that episode aired in India, she suddenly found a fan following in the country. Flash forward to 2018, she has two restaurants in Goa and Mumbai, and was in Delhi recently to curate the menu for The Wine Company, Gurgaon. Here, she talks about her culinary beginnings, her India connect, and what she thinks of food porn:

From ramp to kitchen

I started modelling at 18 years of age and modelled for nearly 10 years. During this period, I got to travel all over the world and experience new cultures and cuisine. My first ever trip overseas was to Germany and it was a hellish experience. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. The only thing that made me happy there was this creamy cold cucumber dish. I don’t remember the exact name of the dish. And it was during this period that I had this epiphany that you may not speak the same language but you can definitely enjoy a meal together.

Few years down the line, after I had my son, I started to cook frequently. And this I think ignited the passion within me for cooking. From a model, I became this crazy cake lady who was cooking 5 cakes a week. And my son’s grandmother, who is a Punjabi, taught me all the Punjabi dishes. Eventually, I enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu— a cooking school in London.

It wasn’t easy, attending classes, coming back home and cooking; and taking care of my son. I was like a walking zombie.

After a while, I decided to apply for Masterchef Australia (2014 edition) where I made aloo gobi. And the rest is history. My social media following suddenly increased and most of the fans were Indian.

Kolhapuri slow cooked lamb on betel leaf, avocado, raita, crisp bondi

The Indian affair

My goal was to open an Indian restaurant in Australia but crazily I ended up opening an Australian restaurant in India. There is so much diversity in the country that I feel that there is still a lot about India that is unexplored. I recently visited Assam and Nagaland and I feel that it’s such an unexplored area. It’s amazing how most of restaurants in North East, especially Nagaland, are farm-to-table. I tried the bamboo shoot broth there and it was amazing. Even Kashmir was; we’ve recently added a kalari dish (known as the mozzarella of Kashmir) in our menu. And it’s not just food but Indian fashion also has influenced me. I used to wear black all day long but that changed when I came to India, I just love colourful Indian dresses. I am huge fan of designer Payal Khandwala. I like that her designs are minimal yet classy.

Defining Australian cuisine

There is the aboriginal cuisine in the country, which is local, sustainable and unexplored. The cooking techniques are simple and the food is spicy and flavourful. The older generation is familiar with this. The newer generation’s palate is more multi-cultural. Our weekly meal menu consists of beef stroganoff, which is Russian, Italian Spaghetti; fish and chips, which is English; Pad Thai, from Thailand. Every single night there is a dish from a different country.

Instagram-worthy presentation vs taste

The first priority of a chef is to create healthy, delicious meal for a guest who can visit the restaurant again and again. Having said that, there is no denying that one eats with their eyes; and this is despite social media. No guest would like a messed up plate at their table. However, that doesn’t mean you forcefully make visual additions to the dish. The plating has to be practical. It’s annoying when people add things to a dish that don’t add flavour or in fact anything, they just dip their fingers into your food just for Instagram purposes, which is a turn off. As for food innovation, combining two or more dishes together only make sense if the dish is balanced. And by that I mean, the spices, texture etc. should complement each other.

Next big trends

Local produce based menu. Most of top 50 restaurants in the world opt for a local produce. The customers are extremely aware as they know like to know where the produce is coming from.

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