Celeb chef Sarah Todd on her return to MasterChef, Indian flavours, and her new spice line
In the fourteenth season of MasterChef Australia, celebrity contender Sarah Todd whipped up popular Indian street food bhelpuri and cooked up a storm on social media.
While the judges praised its complex flavours, emotions ran amok online, with a viewer calling it a ‘MasterChef-level dish available in India for just Rs 20’. Others were amused that it took Sarah 10 minutes to prepare the dish, and pointed out ‘the bhelpuriwallah on the street would take only five minutes to make bhel for 20 people.’
The comments notwithstanding, Sarah deserves applause for putting Indian food and flavours on the global map, again and again. In her first appearance on MasterChef Australia on Season 6, she cooked the humble aloo gobhi and her Indian following surged. In the current season, she has packed in more dishes than ever – introducing viewers and foodies to Rajasthani lal maas and the Bombay sandwich
Previously married to Devinder Garcha, an Indian, Sarah is a self-professed Indophile. Not content with whipping up Indian food on MasterChef, she has also opened two restaurants in India, Antares in Goa and the Wine Rack in Mumbai.
This month, she’s all set to launch an India-inspired spice line that includes tandoori masala, vindaloo masala, and seafood masala.
In a conversation with HerStory, she talks about her success, her love for India, and the new launch.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
HerStory (HS): You have been cooking a lot of Indian dishes since Season 6. Did you return to the new season with a strategy or do you just want to cook with the flow?
Sarah Todd (ST): It took quite a bit of convincing from producers to get me back on the show. I also realised how much knowledge I’ve gained from my travels across India. The thing I noticed most is just how unique the cuisine is in every state and city across India. I felt like that’s something that hasn’t been really represented, both in Australia and MasterChef.
It's a great opportunity for me to speak about all the dishes I’ve fallen in love with. Although I do have an Aussie accent and so may not be pronouncing them correctly, but I know I'm getting the flavours right, that's for sure.
HS: What have been your biggest learnings as a contestant and as a celebrity contender?
ST: Through the competition, I really didn't have any expectations of what I would learn. I felt like I had gotten to a place where I was pretty comfortable in my cooking style. I realised that throughout the competition, I actually did have a lot of room to grow. I always loved Indian food, French food, Australian food, and the competition just solidified my direction, which is what I love - Indian flavours with French techniques. I really got to a point where I knew what my style was and I'm really happy with where I landed up.
HS: Tell us about whipping up the bhelpuri that had social media abuzz.
ST: I honestly didn't expect so much social media buzz, but I still remember eating bhelpuri for the first time in the streets of Mumbai, taking that first bite and realising the texture and the layers of flavour. There is so much flavour in a dish put together so quickly.
But ultimately, there's a lot of history behind this. The challenge was to make something as tasty as possible in 10 minutes. And I could only think of bhelpuri, making a couple of chutneys and tossing it all together. I think it was the perfect dish for that challenge.
HS: Do you believe the world now has a better understanding of Indian food beyond chicken tikka? What Indian cuisines would you like to showcase to the world?
ST: My son is half Indian. And I feel the moment he was born was when I took on a responsibility to understand his culture and cuisine. I wanted to make sure that when he goes to school, and he's taking paratha in his lunchbox here in Australia, he's being accepted for that.
I think building that awareness in Australia is amazing because MasterChef has such an incredible reach.
But it all started small – to make my son feel comfortable learning about Indian food and culture. I love it when people taste the dishes I’m creating and go ‘wow, it’s not so heavy’.
And, I’m like Indian food doesn’t have to be heavy. It’s been nice to be able to talk about my experiences in India and living in a Punjabi household.
HS: You opened two restaurants in India. How has your experience been?
ST: There were a lot of challenges initially in understanding how business works. I had been a model and you just turned up for a photoshoot, did your job and got paid, which is pretty simple. But running a business is not just about writing a menu, there’s so much more. Restaurants are definitely the place where I want to be. I think that’s the heart and soul of being a chef; you need to have a place where you can get real-time feedback. There’s nothing more beautiful than getting the reactions of people eating your food.
HS: You are all set to launch a spice line inspired by India. Tell us more.
ST: The first thing that most people say when they ask me to teach them a recipe or cook Indian food, is that it seems so difficult, with so many ingredients and elements to marry to make a curry. But I realised it's not that complicated. I wanted to create a spice range that made it easier for people to make a beautiful dish on a weeknight; one that takes no more than 30 minutes to put together and is also flavoursome and full of nutrients. That's the plan behind the spice range. Also, the younger generation in India is now living on their own and this will be an advantage.
HS: What does the future look like?
ST: I am looking forward to being back in India, getting back into my restaurants, and continuing to explore as much as Indian cuisine as possible. I've got a few trips planned to new destinations across India.
Edited by Teja Lele