Lots of MasterChef contestants open restaurants, but not many of them do so on the other side of the world.
My Restaurant in India follows Australian Sarah Todd as she attempts to set up a 400-seat beach club and restaurant in Goa.
She explains why Indians like MasterChef Australia, how their restaurants differ from Aussie ones, and reveals her favourite Goan dishes.
How did you end up opening a restaurant in India?
I travelled to India when Masterchef Australia was airing there and I was blown away by the love and warmth the viewers showered me with. It was the alu gobi dish that I’d prepared on MasterChef that got the Indian audience excited. My now business partner proposed setting up a restaurant in Goa and showed the plot to me. Initially I thought he was crazy, but today I’m more than glad I took the opportunity. And now I am in India for about six months straight during the peak season at the restaurant.
Why do Indians like MasterChef Australia so much?
Indians are foodies and extremely open to being innovative with what goes into a dish and how to make it differently and flavourfully.
Had you been to India before MasterChef?
I hadn’t. My first trip was two years ago and upon touchdown I could feel this magic in the soil and I completely fell for it. The feel of the country is so raw and simple; it totally accepts you. The vibe made me fall in love with it instantly: when you look around it’s so colourful and everyone’s always moving and working. There’s so much energy and constant motion that it pushes you to really give back.
What I firstly sensed about Goa is that it is quite similar to Queensland in terms of the climate and also the culture; it is influenced by the Portuguese and its neighbouring states so it’s a tropical land with a fun blend of cultures and cuisines. I absolutely make the most of Goa when I’m there: I do yoga at the beach, take a dip in the sea, and just take in the beauty of the sunrises and sunsets. The traditions, music and food in India hit all your senses and you’re always just bowled over.
What’s the food like in Goa?
It has an interesting Portuguese influence and often reminds me of the Indian, gastropub-style food you get in London. Also, the Goans’ love throwing coconut and vinegar into their dishes, and the end result is delicious! Goa is part of the coastal region Kokan, so it has a ton of seafood as well.
Coco Beach; Goa is famous for its beaches and laid-back tropical vibe
Are there any dishes you particularly love?
What’s the restaurant like and what have been the main challenges?
The obvious challenge was setting up my first ever restaurant in a whole different country with various legal formalities and the works. The other hurdle initially was the language differences and conveying what I had in mind precisely to the staff. But that’s no longer a problem; we speak through ingredients and flavours now!
What language do they speak in Goa – have you learnt any?
The official language is Konkani and there are so many dialects. I was super-stunned when I found out that there are over 700 different languages in India! I’ve only learnt a bit of Hindi which is spoken a lot all over India. I throw around a ton of “Jaldi jaldi” meaning “fast, fast” at my staff at Antares and they know to speed up. The kitchen staff speak six different languages and it’s amazing how we all connect and keep things moving despite that.
Sarah and her staff
Have you noticed any differences in the way restaurants are run in India and Australia?
Totally. In India, you’re able to have more manpower and a higher level of service is expected by Indian customers. In India, people count on the staff to really deliver right from the moment they step into a restaurant. People want an experience in India, whereas in Australia people eat out as often as 20 times a month and are pickier about the food than the service.
Have you had any time to explore?
Oh yes, I’ve done a lot of touristy activities around Goa, from strolling around the markets (the Wednesday flea market at the village of Anjuna is a favourite spot) to jet-skiing on the beaches, restaurant-hopping and lots more!
Taj Mahal, Agra
I’ve also been to the Taj Mahal in Uttar Pradesh and was truly struck by it, and I visited the River Brahmaputra in Assam which is enchantingly beautiful. When I was in Assam, I was lucky enough to watch the natives perform a traditional dance and even danced a bit with them! I’ve also visited a number of temples around India and the interiors are incredibly intricate: the art work, the designs, the sculptures are shaped to perfection and portray the Hindu tales very cleverly. I’m really looking forward to exploring more of India.
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