Fresh out of the MasterChef Australia fame, Queensland-born celebrity chef Sarah Todd didn’t know what to expect when she first booked her tickets to explore opportunities in India. Four years and two restaurants later, the model-turned-chef has travelled extensively across the length and breadth of the country, and fondly calls it her “first home!” We find out about her tryst with India beyond the restaurants, Antares (Goa) and The Wine Rack (Mumbai). By Shikha Pushpan

1. What were your first impressions about India?

“I was 27 when I first came to India. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I felt an instant connect the moment I arrived. I knew I was meant to be here. I am from a small town (Mackay, Queensland) of some 1,000 people. So, initially, the crowded streets of New Delhi and Mumbai were a bit overwhelming [laughs]. But when I visited Goa, I didn’t want to leave—the summery, tropical climate reminded me of my hometown.”

Australian Chef Sarah Todd

2. You’ve been quite an intrepid traveller. Tell us about your adventures in India.

“Well, I have been really fortunate to take some time oŠff, and explore the more oŠ beat destinations. I spent 10 days in Assam last year, where we went on a cruise along the River Brahmaputra, the river island of Majuli, took a rhino safari in Kaziranga National Park, and got to taste the amazing Assamese cuisine. We travelled further to Nagaland, and got an opportunity to interact with the local tribes, and learn about their unique culture. However, it’s Kashmir that remains etched in my mind. It was a life-changing experience for me—the place has got such a raw untouched vibe, with beautiful people, and a local cuisine you won’t mind travelling for! The multi-course meal, Wazwan, was a true revelation.”

Australian Chef Sarah Todd

3. Five essentials you don’t travel without?

“I have everything I need to survive here in my handbag [laughs]! I always carry credit cards (spread out in different sections of the bag), laptop, phone, charger, Pure Paw Paw balm, and sachets of Chinese tea.”

4. Advice to foreign travellers visiting India?

“Thankfully, I have never had an awkward experience in India. However, one needs to get used to the body space around here since it’s a highly populated country. Plus, having a fair idea of the cost of things helps when you’re out shopping. Be prepared about what to expect.”

Related: Chef Heston Blumenthal’s Gastronomic Adventures Boil Down To One Thing: “Question Everything”