On home soil

Updated: Aug 18, 2019, 08:19 IST | Anju Maskeri

As she gets ready to front the food experience at the Australian Open 2020, chef Sarah Todd tells us what's cooking

On home soil
Epicurean Harvest eggplant, black beauty Tortang Talong with Butterfly Factory coriander hung yoghurt

For most tennis enthusiasts, the Australian Open is about the game, but for restaurateur and chef, Sarah Todd, the excitement goes beyond. "It's in the food line-up," she enthuses. What started as a tennis tournament has evolved into a cultural celebration. And now the MasterChef Australia favourite and owner of Mumbai's Wine Rack, will be part of an all-female lineup for the 'AO Chef Series'. Todd will create a degustation menu at The Glasshouse opposite the Rod Laver Arena during the Grand Slam tournament in January.

Excerpts from an interview.

How did you make the cut?
In the last couple of years, I've been working in India and the Australian Tourism Board has been closely following my journey. When it comes to this massive event, they were on the lookout for an international face with whom a global audience could relate. Moreover, year on year, they get on board those who not only add that multi-cultural and versatile edge, but also appeal to a large number of Indian tourists who visit Melbourne during that time.

Sarah Todd
Sarah Todd

What is the food normally like at such an event?
The Australian Open brings together people from various walks of life. Even though the food is just one of the elements of the event, I'd say it is only premium fare that is served. The Glasshouse is converted into a culinary space. Its entire interior and setting is transformed. Serving five-course meals, with wines paired, they provide a high-end and glamorous fine-dining experience with some of the world's top chefs.

What is the menu that you have thought up?
My menu revolves around my signature cooking style—Indo Australian. All the dishes draw inspiration from my time spent during my travels across India. I've already given a few guests a sneak preview of the Laal Maas and Nettle Saag. For canapés, I'll be serving butter garlic Victorian crab pani puri with caviar and chives, and seared rare Sher Wagyu F1 Black Label Ribeye and horseradish cream with khakhara. Mains will include cabbage foogath, tofu aioli, picalili pickle, chaat masala and Malabar roti, and Southern rock lobster butter poached, Xacuti dressing, lemon myrtle, crisp garlic and curry leaves, among other things.

How easy is it to use Australian produce to whip up Indian dishes?
In Australia, we are blessed with fresh local produce. I'll be sourcing rich and creamy butter and yoghurt from Butterfly Factory Dairy and scallops from Port Philip Bay. Brooklands Free Range Farms are known for its 100 per cent Grass Fed British White Beef and Yarra Valley, for caviar smoked salmon pearls. One of my cooking philosophy is not to import ingredients from different countries. Instead, use seasonal produce, add flavour to them and let the ingredients speak for themselves.

What sort of research has gone into the menu creation?
My main focus is to work upon turning classic Indian dishes into new-age creations which will easily appeal to almost every palate. For instance, Laal Maas is characterised by its magnificent hue and spicy tang. It is mild in heat and reminds me of the Australian red desert. I've given the dish a fresh spin, by serving it with a beautiful smoked and seared lamb back-strap.

At what stage of the preparation are you?
I'm more or less set with the menu. I'm currently going through the final stages of pairing various local produce.

What are the factors to keep in mind while curating the menu?
Inherently, it's a sport event, which is why I've kept dishes rather simple and relatively light. The idea is to tickle their taste buds but at the same time keep them feeling light and not over stuffed after a five-course meal. I've also considered not keeping my food too heavy or oily or high on carbohydrates, and instead the emphasis is
on protein.

What's it like to be part of an all-female chef ensemble?
Nothing makes me happier than to see the progress women have made in securing equal opportunities of influence and talent in male dominated industries.

What to expect

. Spiced roast pumpkin, Madras curry dressing, crisp garlic and curry leaves, toasted hazelnuts, cashew cream
. Taluca Park Pasture Raised Rare Breed pork vindaloo ribs, smoked and glazed, red onions, coriander and fennel
. Southern rock lobster butter poached, Xacuti dressing, lemon myrtle, crisp garlic and curry leaves
. Sol kadhi ice-cream, meringue, macadamia nuts and shattered rose

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