At 86, with a career spanning over half a century of cooking and feeding people, restaurateur Anant Kaur Sandhu felt ‘humbled’ to be appointed as Member of the Order of Australia 2018.
The sprightly octogenarian received the prestigious award for significant service to the restaurant and catering industry in South Australia, and to the community through support for charitable organisations.
Cooking and food have always been a big part of the Sandhu family’s lives and when it was time to give back to the community, they came together to feed the homeless.
For the past 17 years, the family – through their restaurant The Jasmine – serve hearty meals to the homeless, socially disadvantaged and isolated.
Queues of homeless people line up outside their restaurant, every Thursday evenings to not only find a meal but also a sense of belonging and community.
It all started nearly 18 years ago when Anant saw Anglicare volunteers handing out food packages to the homeless in a park near her restaurant in Hindmarsh Square.
“I really felt for them as the bread and sausages they received may well have been the only meal they ate that day or for days. After a discussion with my family, we decided to provide a freshly cooked, nutritious proper meal to the homeless from our restaurant,” said Anant.
“Many of them suffer medical conditions or have dietary restrictions so we ensure that the meal is light and not spicy. There is always a meat dish, vegetables and rice,” said Anant, describing the menu for the homeless.
Every Christmas, The Jasmine also serves up a fully traditional Christmas meal with ham or turkey and Christmas staples for the disadvantaged.
“My children, grandchildren and staff – everyone pitches in to cook and serve the food and we all enjoy giving back something to the community,” said Anant.
Born and brought up in Kuala Lumpur, Anant and her family migrated to Australia 42 years ago with the help of a friend who sponsored them.
She felt there was a better future for her three sons and two daughters in Australia and never regretted the decision.
“Australians are very welcoming as long as you can hold your own. I have always received tremendous support from people and patrons and I am really grateful for it,” she said.
“I love cooking and used to run a small place called The Maharajah in Malaysia along with a small business training Telex Operators. It was difficult to run both together so we closed the restaurant and then moved to Australia,” said Anant.
The heat of the kitchen still holds charm for Anant who was one of the first to bring Indian food to South Australian tables with her restaurant.
What started as a small takeaway place is now a 130-seater restaurant with private function rooms and a warm earthy décor.
Kevin Rudd, Gough Whitlam, Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Dev, Nawab of Pataudi, Billy Connelly and Elton John are among the celebrities who have gorged happily on The Jasmine’s curries and breads.
What started as a hobby developed into a culinary journey that brought many rewards for Anant, who is now semi-retired but is always around to give advice.
According to her, the secret to her active 80s is good living, nothing in excess and an enormously supportive family.
The Australia Day Honour is something that she did not expect at all and she finds the experience very humbling.
“We did not get involved with charity to get anything back. I was very surprised when I received the news and am grateful to those who nominated me,” said Anant, a glowing example of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.