In the 2014 edition of the widely popular TV series MasterChef Australia, Sarah Todd cooked aloo gobi, and won the hearts of thousands of Indian viewers. “In the weeks after that episode aired in India, my Facebook suddenly had some 50,000 followers. I was shocked and surprised," says Todd. Since then, her life and work took a turn towards India, and she divides her time between Goa and Mumbai.

Prior to her deep dive into the world of culinary cultures, Todd was a model who walked international runways for Gucci and Hugo Boss among others. Born and brought up in Queensland, she was 18 when she was discovered by Chadwick Models, the biggest modelling agency in Sydney. She worked as a model for over a decade, travelling to London, New York and cities in Germany, New Zealand and Australia. And, in the process, she discovered that “food is a language that everyone speaks". She went on to study culinary arts from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and learnt from Michelin-starred chefs like Angela Hartnett. In her cookbook, The Healthy Model Cookbook (Penguin, 2016), Todd writes about cooking with fresh seasonal foods, keeping the simplicity and authenticity intact. Today, along with Delhi-based restaurateur Ashish Kapur, she runs Antares, a restaurant in north Goa, and The Wine Rack in Mumbai. “Queensland is tropical, and so is Goa. I feel right at home," she says.

(clockwise, from left) Gucci earrings, a ring bought in Melbourne and a Reliquia necklace, handmade ceramics from Japan and hoop earrings from the Portobello Road Market, London Photo: Akshay Mahajan/Mint
(clockwise, from left) Gucci earrings, a ring bought in Melbourne and a Reliquia necklace, handmade ceramics from Japan and hoop earrings from the Portobello Road Market, London Photo: Akshay Mahajan/Mint

Glamorous yet casual, warm and friendly, Todd sits on a barstool at The Wine Rack, and speaks to Lounge about the significance of style in clothing and in cooking. Edited excerpts:

How did the transition from modelling to cooking come about?

When I had my son, I found myself cooking a lot. I would make these elaborate three-course dinners. But it was also because my partner at the time (we’re separated now) was Indian, and he unlocked a world of spice for me that I had never seen before. I would see him in the kitchen and he would just throw stuff in, whereas I had grown up cooking with a recipe and exact measurements. Also, during my years modelling and travelling, my world opened to so many different types of food, and how people always got together around food. I remember I was in London on a modelling contract and I had this light-bulb moment: What am I doing? I had done it for 10 years, and I loved it while I did it, but I wasn’t feeling it any more. All I wanted to do was to be home with my family and be cooking. After that, I applied for Le Cordon Bleu. Then I applied to MasterChef, and actually got through.

(clockwise, from left) A striped shirt from a Melbourne boutique; white pants from I.Am.Gia; a Lack Of Colour hat; and ‘juttis’ from a Goa market Photo: Akshay Mahajan/MintPhoto
(clockwise, from left) A striped shirt from a Melbourne boutique; white pants from I.Am.Gia; a Lack Of Colour hat; and ‘juttis’ from a Goa market Photo: Akshay Mahajan/MintPhoto

Can you draw a portrait of your style from your early modelling days?

The first time I went to the modelling agency Chadwick Models, I still remember, I wore a leopard-print top with black pants that had tie-ups around the ankles. My style in my modelling days was very neutral. And almost black. Black trousers, black top, black boots. When you’re going to castings every day, you always need to look extremely polished and fashionable, but you can’t be too extreme either. That was then, but on the whole, I’ve always liked to dress simple, with block colours and crisp clean lines. I think that’s the same in the presentation of my dishes. I like fairly clean plating, yet not too polished. I would say I’m in between being neat and being fashionable. I think my style is polished chaos.

What is your style today? 

These days I’m obsessed with wide-leg, flared pants, or just loose pants with tighter ankles. Over the years, I’ve learnt to dress for my body type. I’m a bit wider on my hips and thighs, but thin on my waist, so I like high-waisted, wide pants. I love block, neutral colours. And when I’m going out, I love tight body-con dresses. I like to wear delicate jewellery for everyday, like a fine chain or little gold earrings. And sometimes, I’ll wear a simple dress with a chunky necklace and chunky earrings.

You went from being a model to a chef. Did that present challenges in your lifestyle or body image?

When I started out as a model, I was 10kg lighter than I am now. When you’re that size, everything looks good on you. My usual casting outfit would be tight jeans, a baggy T-shirt, and massive 6-inch heels or boots. In the past few years, my body shape has changed and I’m a lot curvier now. But for a few months, I went through a battle internally of trying to lose weight. But food is my work now. If I’m not eating, I’m not learning and growing. This is my natural size when I’m eating healthily. And it takes some time to understand that, to love yourself and be confident in your skin. Now my aim is to find clothes that flatter my body shape.

An Yves Saint Laurent bag. Photo: Akshay Mahajan/Mint
An Yves Saint Laurent bag. Photo: Akshay Mahajan/Mint

Are there any favourite designers who have consistently done that for you?

I quite love Australian designers, like Lover, Zimmermann and Alice McCall. All of them are similar in how their design is feminine, a little bit sexy, and flatters your body shape with cinched waists and flared silhouettes.

Have you experimented with Indian wear or Indian designers?

I love Payal Khandwala. I love the colours and the shapes. She pushes the boundaries in some measure, but keeps it feminine and beautiful. I have one of her suits; it’s a deep red and purple with a paisley pattern. I also love this other block-blue silk dress by Vedika M. India has added so much colour and gold to my wardrobe.

Do your travels for food also lead to fashion discoveries?

Everywhere I go, I pick up something that is unique to that place. I went to Kashmir last week, and within one day had a lovely flowing blue pheran stitched for myself.

I love bringing back ceramics. I love mixing and matching. From Fiji, I brought back coconut bowls; the coconut’s inner shell is soaked in mud for three days, and cured, and then used as a cup. When I went to Assam, I found these little cane baskets that people chuck the fish in. I brought them back with me and polished them and use them as plates at Antares.

I find that fashion is expression, whether through clothing or food presentation.

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