“The Australian Open is a like a big festival,” shares chef Sarah Todd over a zoom call. Apart from the tennis, there is live music, a ball park for children to go-cart or get trained in sports and food pop-ups that draw a large crowd. One such food experience is the AO Chef Series which features top chefs from around the world cooking up a storm with a degustation menu. This year in January, there was an all female line-up with Sarah Todd representing India, Duangporn ‘Bo’ Songvisava from Bangkok and Annaliese Gregory from Tasmania. Their experience of prepping for the event with the back story on how each dish was crafted have been made into a food show titled The Perfect Served which released on Sony Six this month.
The show pans out like a countdown with a throwback to the early months of menu planning, tastings and a glimpse of each chefs’ personal take on food. One finds out that it takes eight months of prep to pull off an annual premium dining experience like the AO Chef Series at the Australian Open. Each chef who was brought in from overseas aimed to serve diners a taste of the country they call home. The camera crew travelled with the chef from their home country to the venue to documents each step of the process “I did a 9-course menu to take diners on a journey around India through food,” says Todd. She is Australian, but has spent about six years in India and open three restaurants in Delhi, Mumbai and Goa. Her India-inspired menu had a Rajasthani laal maas gravy with saag, Goan Xacuti with butter poached lobster and the street-fave paani puri stuffed with caviar and crab with a cold tamarind broth. “These diners come in dressed to the nines. I would walk up to each table explaining how to have the paani puri, with their hands, in one bite and their faces would light up because they never tried anything like that before,” recollects Todd. The meal is a late lunch after which they catch the tennis.
Todd had to find substitutes of ingredients in Australia to create Indian dishes. For the laal maas, she sourced a mildly flavoured salt bush lamb, seasoned it with masalas, baked it and served on a bed of laal maas gravy. It was accompanied by a saag made with Australian nettle instead of spinach. For the paani puri, she decided to include caviar and crab because Australia is known for its seafood. She says, “We got quite lucky with Aussi produce as we tried to create dishes that were as true to an Indian food experience as possible. ”
Her dessert was inspired by Sol Kadhi which is a kokum-infused coconut milk drink popular in the west coast of India. She had a rose flavoured pink dessert—a mouse dome with rose and lychee gel in the centre served with ice cream and topped off with a shattered rose to add a bit of drama: “When it was time for dessert, we needed a bit of magic. In front of everyone, I took a rose, put it in liquid nitrogen and crushed it all over the dish.”
Todd is in Melbourne and is coordinating with her restaurant team in Antares Goa to launch a new menu and train staff. Australia has closed foreign travel and the chef says she can’t wait to be back in India. She wants to explore more Goan dishes, include more local fish and serve each dish with her signature modern twist at Antares. As for the next AO Series which is planned in January, she hopes to be back.
To book a seat for the AO Chef Series, check AUSOpen.com/hospitality/packages/chef-series