Australian Chef Sarah Todd has an undeniable connection to India. Remember when she whipped up the humble Indian Aloo Gobhi in MasterChef 2014? The Indian restaurateur and second-time cookbook author has vast culinary experience and we could all take lessons from her - for our dishes and even life in general. NDTV Food caught up for a conversation with the celebrated chef, and she spoke at length about her tryst with Indian food, her go-to ingredient, a viral recipe she tried, and her favourite comfort food of all time; a food which would resonate with many North Indians. Read on!
1. When was the first time you tried your hands at Indian cuisine?
I first tried cooking Indian cuisine after my son was born. He is half Punjabi, so it is only natural I introduce him to the food of his heritage. I am trained in French culinary techniques and found the difference in cooking styles a little daunting. However, I have fallen in love with spices and the magic they bring to a dish. I now find it fun and exciting to cook Indian food, and it is my preferred cooking style, with my Aussie twist, of course!
2. Have you ever had your food sent back at a restaurant?
Of course, I welcome feedback. It is our job to give the diner the best overall experience. We want our guests to leave happy and, hopefully, come back again. There are so many things that influence a diner's experience, and sometimes it has nothing to do with your restaurant. They could just be having a bad day, or the dish may not suit their palate. With the pressure of a busy kitchen and getting meals out on time, accidents do happen. I would rather have a guest politely explain the problem with a meal so we can rectify it. This is far better than not speaking up and writing a negative review with no opportunity for the chef to address the complaint.
3. Has lockdown brought about a change in your personal cooking style and general idea of cooking and dining?
Every experience in life influences my cooking style as I learn and develop new skills. I have been testing many more recipes now that I have the time and I love the trajectory my cooking style is heading to.
4. What kept you going in the lockdown period?
Work never stops, and I love it. I have been working on some new products that I have had in mind for a very long time. The lockdown allowed me the time to focus on this dream project. I loved cooking at home with my son and spending quality time together.
5. One dish that was very difficult for you to create.
In 2019 I prepared a 5-course degustation menu for the first all-female Australian Open Chefs Series, one of Australia's most prestigious culinary events. Australians know me from my time on MasterChef and the My Restaurant in India documentaries. However, my cooking style has changed dramatically since MasterChef. Because of my time in India, I developed a unique Indian Australian cooking style. This would be the first time Australians would have the opportunity to try it. My menu took guests on a journey of flavours from across India while incorporating native Australian ingredients.
I wanted the final dish to be a showstopper. The dessert, called 'Shattered Rose", was inspired by the refreshing and delicious falooda. With 13 different elements, each element must be prepared and set before starting the next. A fresh organic red rose that has been immersed in liquid nitrogen is then shattered over the dish. It is an exciting dessert.
6. An ingredient that you love adding to any and everything possible.
I love the versatility of spices. Sweet, sharp, hot, sour, spicy, aromatic, tart, mild, fragrant, or pungent, there is a spice to elevate any dish, from a sprinkle of the earthy cumin over carrots before roasting to the robust Laal Maas with a blast of chillies.
7. A viral recipe you couldn't resist trying?
Pesto eggs, with my spin on it, of course. It is live on my Instagram.
8. If not a chef, then what would you have been?
I always dreamt of being a race car driver. I love driving on an open road through the countryside. I find it very relaxing, and it takes my mind off everything.
9. What do you like the most about Indian food?
- Packed with flavour
- Adding spices and herbs to humble ingredients turns the dish into something magnificent
- Variety - the dishes are so diverse from village-to-village, city-to-city and state-to-state
- The power of traditional Indian food to promote good health and support immunity
- The abundance of vegetarian and vegan options
10. What was your inspiration behind your second cookbook - My Indian Kitchen?
While travelling across India, I marvelled at the diversity of cuisines in each state. I was welcomed into the home of a Mising family in Assam and stayed with a tribe in Nagaland. I participated in a cultural festival in Kashmir and cooked freshly caught crab xacuti with a family on the banks of the river in Goa. These travels and experiences have influenced the way I cook.
My book represents these experiences and showcases the India I know and love. In a way, it is my way of saying thank you for sharing their culture and stories with me. In 'Everyday India', you will find just that, recipes inspired by everyday people. I have drawn inspiration from the street food vendors and the families who have shared their meals and homes with me. I have used tips I gleaned from chefs of family-owned restaurants and ingredients I discovered in the most unexpected places.
The opportunities presented to me by India have helped me step outside my comfort zone and this chapter of my life inherently shaped my book.
11. What is your go-to comfort food?
My idea of comfort food is something delicious that provokes nostalgia. The other day, I was cooking Paratha with my son and he said, "Remember when Bibi (Grandmother) used to cook this for me all the time. It's my favourite thing to eat." Paratha has become comfort food for us in our house and one that is connected to a fond memory for both myself and for my son.