MasterChef Australia finalist and celebrity chef Sarah Todd has created a niche in India’s culinary world as a restaurateur, TV host, cookbook author and influencer. Following the success of Antares, her beach club and restaurant in Goa, she has recently started The Wine Rack in Mumbai to belie the myth that Indian food does not go with wine
What is the brand positioning of The Wine Rack in Mumbai’s F&B scenario ?
Community is a word I like to use frequently in my projects. I want people to feel a sense of place, something that doesn’t feel generic and offers a real slice of the area. The Wine Rack in Phoenix Mills has been transformed from the old cotton mills and I wanted to keep that industrial feel, from the exposed pipes, high ceilings and disheveled walls.
At The Wine Rack, what is “exclusively Sarah Todd” for Mumbai’s food and wine connoisseurs ?
Anyone who has followed me on social media knows that I absolutely love Indian street food. I have incorporated a section on the menu which is my version of Mumbai street food. These are the elements that give the locals a sense of place. I want to turn the misconception that ‘Indian food doesn’t go with wine’ on its head. Customers can choose from 300 bottles of wine in a wine rack spanning the entire length of the room to pair with signature dishes like raan kolhapuri with avocado raita and boondi served a top a betel leaf and duck and red wine infused cranberry kulcha. The food is comforting yet fine; I want guests to feel like they’re dining at home in their cellar sipping wine with friends while sharing great food and conversation.
What are the other unique F&B offerings and your vision for the restaurant ?
The preconception of wine is that you must understand tasting notes to appreciate it or be sitting down to a stiff four-six course set menu with paired wines. Our message at The Wine Rack is a simple one, wine can be enjoyed by everyone. Choosing the right wine can be so much fun, and that is exactly how we want guests to enjoy it. Our wine connoisseurs can walk you through the notes but telling stories is so much more fun. Our job is to demystify these preconceived ideas around wine, but, at the same time, not make it frivolous.
Where are your next restaurant projects coming up in India and what will be the key drivers of these projects?
My philosophy is to create a great destination that is the perfect mix of great food, appealing architecture, relaxed ambiance, impeccable service and something less tangible, a sense of connection to the people who live, work and play in the community.
As a chef what have been your greatest learning from your explorations of Indian cuisine culture?
The rich culinary diversity of India, their sheer love of food and warm hospitality never cease to amaze me. No matter where I go or what class of people I meet, I’m welcomed with open arms. The locals give so much and often have so little and I leave with the resolve to be as giving and humble as these beautiful people. I am classically trained in French cuisine and this still underpins much of what I do, but my style has developed by incorporating a contrast in textures and flavours from Indian cuisine.
What have been your focused efforts in popularising Australian food in India? How successful has it been in creating awareness regarding the best of Australian cuisine here?
Today’s food distribution systems are such that almost all global foods are available everywhere. This has diluted traditional culinary customs, and one ironic result of that is an increased nostalgia for those very traditions. In that vein I have been putting my spin on those dishes that I remember from my childhood and taking them to a restaurant standard. This is the focus at Antares Goa, with an Aussie barbecue menu and Aussie favourites like surf and turf and pavlova. However, at The Wine Rack we’ve focused on a more global cuisine in line with a global wine menu.
Your future plans – any new books, upcoming television programs?
Part of my research ensures I travel, explore and draw inspiration from all regions across India and in particular Mumbai. In the research and development of The Wine Rack, I really wanted to source local ingredients and adapt the local street food. This personal journey of discovery will be documented in a second series of ‘My Restaurant in India’ as I set off on an adventure to find exciting food and fresh produce to use in the restaurant. I met some unforgettable characters along the way, from growers, producers, street vendors, restaurant owners, market sellers and the staff hired for The Wine Rack. This will be airing early in the second half of 2018.
Any other significant factor you would like to highlight.
India is in the middle of a food revolution and as a chef it’s about being confident in creating and innovating in a uniquely Indian way. Globally there is a huge interest in local and indigenous produce, improved supply, and organic, biodynamic and artisan produce. I support this movement by sourcing and promoting local and indigenous produce in my restaurants.