From Mackay to Meghalaya: Sarah Todd’s culinary adventure

Sarah Todd is back on TV judging a new Indian cooking show set in this northeastern gem

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The seven-episode culinary series Hills on a Plate: Meghalaya Chef Wars on India’s JioCinema, had me, a die-hard foodie, hooked right from the word go.

A cook-off between seven Meghalayan chefs, the show is judged by a panel of three, including Australian food celebrity Sarah Todd.

Sarah of course is well-known in India – which in the recent years has become home to her – for infusing dishes at her restaurants with locally sourced ingredients.

Meghalayan cuisine, woven from the rich cultural history of Meghalaya, a state nestled in the northeastern region of India, is deeply rooted in the indigenous practices of the Khasi, Garo, and Jaintia tribes.

It’s been a true revelation to see how the locals have perfected the art of using locally available ingredients to create meals that are both wholesome and delicious.

Sarah Todd's Meghalaya
Behind the scenes of Hills on a Plate: Meghalaya Chef Wars (Source: Supplied)

Alongside well-known local food personalities Ardahun Passah and William Diengdoh, Todd of MasterChef Australia tests seven skilled chefs as they battle it out for supremacy while also highlighting the vibrant flavours of this unique region.

Todd cites her “deep love” for exploring India’s diverse culinary landscape as the reason to get involved with this cooking show.

“The flavours of Meghalaya are exceptional, and the chance to share them with a broader audience was irresistible,” she tells Indian Link. “Plus, diving into a lesser-known cuisine and bringing its richness to light excited me.”

Giving Meghalayan food a chance

Her first impression of the Meghalayan cuisine was how deeply connected it is to its land.

“Unlike other Indian cuisines, which often feature a plethora of spices, Meghalayan dishes highlight the ingredients’ natural flavours,” she explains, adding, “The use of bamboo shoots, smoked meats, and fermented products gives it a unique character that’s distinct from other regions.”

Doh Sniang Neiiong (Source: Supplied)

While Sarah Todd’s Meghalaya food journey began before the show, during her travels in India, her real deep-dive happened only when she joined the show as a judge.

“What stands out to me is the emphasis on sustainability and local produce. The way they use foraged ingredients and traditional preservation techniques is both innovative and respectful of nature,” she says.

For the unversed, model-turned-chef Todd was a contestant on the sixth season of MasterChef Australia in 2014. So with Hills on a Plate her life came a full circle – from being a hopeful competitor to an expert judge – a testament to her growth and expertise in the culinary world.

So, how did she master this new role, we ask.

Jadoh Dohkhlieh (Source: Supplied)

“I immersed myself in Meghalayan culinary traditions through extensive reading, researching, chats with local chefs, and, of course, tasting many dishes,” she replies. “This was vital to appreciating the authenticity and creativity the contestants bring.”

Finding flavours

Some of the standout dishes for Todd were: Jadoh, a fragrant rice dish infused with aromatic spices and succulent meat; Tungrymbai, a hearty fermented soybean curry; and Dohneiiong, a luscious pork curry simmered in black sesame paste.

“Local ingredients and traditional cooking methods are the heart of this competition,” Todd notes. “They provide the foundation upon which contestants build their dishes. Balancing authenticity with innovation is a delicate task. Still, the contestants managed to do this beautifully.”

However, balancing traditional techniques with unique presentations proved challenging for the competing chefs, she reveals.

Sarah Todd's Meghalaya
Sarah Todd’s Meghalaya experience involved sampling local ingredients and studying traditional cooking techniques (Source: Supplied)

“Meghalaya’s cuisine is deeply rooted in tradition, so the chefs must honour this while making the dishes appealing to a broader audience,” she says, continuing, “But they’ve overcome this by creatively presenting their dishes and incorporating modern cooking techniques without losing the essence of the original recipes.”

Todd says her experience on MasterChef Australia influenced her judging style and approach on Hills on a Plate.

“Having been a contestant on MasterChef, I deeply understand the emotions and pressures the contestants face. It taught me the importance of constructive feedback and recognising the passion behind each dish,” she recalls. “On Hills on a Plate, I bring the same approach, encouraging the contestants and appreciating their efforts to showcase Meghalayan cuisine.”

“After all, I want them to have a positive experience, just like I did,” she smiles.

Check out Sarah Todd’s Meghalaya experience on Hills on a Plate: Meghalaya Chef Wars. It treats viewers to the diverse and untamed beauty of this northeastern gem. If you are a gastronomic adventurer, this show is for you!

READ ALSO: Simple Indian Meals by Sarah Todd

Prutha Chakraborty
Prutha Chakraborty
Prutha Bhosle Chakraborty is a freelance journalist. With over nine years of experience in different Indian newsrooms, she has worked both as a reporter and a copy editor. She writes on community, health, food and culture. She has widely covered the Indian diaspora, the expat community, embassies and consulates. Prutha is an alumna of the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media, Bengaluru.

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