From the quiet 'burbs of Mackay to the runways of Europe, then to our TV screens in this year's season of MasterChef Australia, it seems Sarah Todd has done it all at the ripe age of 27, but her journey is just beginning.
MasterChef brought Sarah, her fiancé Devinder and son Phoenix back to Australian shores – a move that has seen her modelling career take a backseat, but her passion for food only continue to grow deeper.
Picking up some tricks from the home kitchen of mum Lorraine, a so-called 'pavlova queen', as well as global food powerhouses during her decade in front of the camera, Sarah is well equipped for the next chapter.
Fresh from a chaotic and colourful solo adventure in India, Sarah chatted to us about discovering a flair for food, keeping a work-life balance, and signing the dotted line on her exciting new cookbook deal.
How has life in Melbourne been treating you?
I grew up in Mackay, so I was always near the beach. Then I moved to Sydney at 17, so when we moved here to Melbourne, I thought "I don't know if I'm going to like it! It's not near the beach!"
Now we've moved over near Port Melbourne – the city's so close but it's right on the beach and it's beautiful, so I feel very comfortable and at home.
You've picked a great city, probably the best for a 'foodie' to be based!
True! I do cook a lot these days. Having Phoenix, we don't go out too much, but when we do it's really nice to have whatever style of food we could want. Lots of culture; lots of restaurants. We really like it here.
For the last two years I was in the UK, but I've been here since last Christmas. MasterChef brought me back to Australia!
Did growing up in Central Queensland shape your relationship with food?
Definitely, especially with Queensland's massive seafood culture. We always had fresh seafood in Mackay – my uncles would go and catch fresh fish off the boat and we'd cook it up. I think the hot climate means summery food all year round for us.
My partner Dev is from the UK so he eats a lot of 'comfort food' like pies and stews, where I always want fresh salads or fish. I think it's definitely influenced what my favourites are.
When did you first fall in love with food and start to explore cooking?
I think the point when it all changed was when I had my little boy, Phoenix. When it came to eating before, it would always be quick and easy and whatever was in sight.
When I had Phoenix, I started to realise that not only do I have to make him food, but I have to make it nutritious and I had to make it tasty or he would just push it away.
With my partner's family, he's Indian, their food culture is massive - when they get together, it's a real event. I think a combination of those points made me become really passionate about it.
You were just in India a few weeks ago. Was it your first time there?
It was! I went completely on my own this trip. Because it's such a cultural shock, I was a little nervous going over there, but everywhere I went I felt so welcomed. Everyone made me feel so comfortable.
What was the highlight of your trip?
Every single place that I went to, the people were just so passionate about food – I couldn't believe it! They'd say "you've got to try this", and put so much passion and love into every dish.
I did have one day when I had some people take me into Karim's. It's one of the oldest restaurants in India right in the centre of Old Delhi, so to get there it's like you've gone back in time. There's bulls pulling carriages, there's people selling spices. It took me seven hours to go into this restaurant and out again, it was so busy!
In the evening, they took me to indian accent, which is one of the most fine-dining restaurants you can go to in India. In one day I did the complete extremes, from back in time to modern Indian cuisine. It was incredible.
During your travels, has there been a food culture that's stuck with you?
Indian food has definitely stuck with me, mainly because of my partner. I've travelled since I was very young, but I wasn't always so aware of the food.
Even now, we went to Bali in August and there were so many incredible restaurants there. I think it's just about being open to it. For me, it's the one thing that really brings everyone together.
What's on top of your must-visit list right now?
There's two I'd love to do next: Italy and Japan. I think they're both countries that have a lot of food history. My mum just got back from a six week trip in Italy, so she's made me very jealous!
Is your focus more on food than modelling these days?
I'm mainly focusing on food and I'm really enjoying it. The more I'm getting into it, the more I'm loving it. My focus is slowly shifting entirely to food.
Is the dream still to open a restaurant with your fiancé?
I'd love to, one day. I actually just got some exciting news – I've signed a cookbook deal! So I'll be working on that heavily over the next two to three months, then it goes into all the photo shoots. It will be out hopefully at the end of next year. It will mean lots of cooking everyday!
How exciting! What's the focus of your cookbook?
It's going to be 'wholesome living'. One of the biggest questions everyone asks me is "how do you stay skinny and eat so much food?". It's simple for me because I eat wholesome ingredients.
I never say no – if I want to have something sweet, I'll have it. I think if you restrict yourself completely, you end up hiding in your room with a block of chocolate and that's even worse!
For me, it's about eating real ingredients and making everything really tasty. The book will have a healthy focus but still be super delicious, showing everyone you can have little indulgences and it's okay.
Do you stay in touch with the other MasterChef contestants?
Yeah, I do. Kira, Sam, Brent, Amelia – all the Melbourne people. I just had my birthday not long ago and it was kind of like a mini reunion! We spent so much time together in one house, we really made some strong connections.
What was a personal highlight from your time on MasterChef?
I went into the competition not knowing if I was talented enough, even though I always really enjoyed cooking and people around me said they liked it.
Going in feeling very nervous and shy and putting myself out there, then cooking my food and having the judges loving it and having a good response from people watching was amazing!
I think the biggest thing going in is you're scared about what people are going to think of you. It was a really positive experience for me. I came out thinking, "you know what? I can do this."
My whole life I've sort of been searching for a passion, and to come out of it knowing this is what I want to do is really, really nice.
Was it hard coming back into the competition the second time around?
I think for me, when I left MasterChef the biggest worry for me was that Phoenix didn't love me anymore! I didn't see him for two and a half months and he wouldn't talk to me on Skype. Towards that first elimination, I was getting really emotional and it was starting to affect me.
I flew back to the UK the night after I got eliminated, and as soon as Phoenix saw me he jumped over the railing and it was like nothing had ever changed.
Then I felt like I could go back and just keep cooking, and not have that worry anymore. I would have liked to have stayed in a little bit longer, of course.
Has it taken a while to find the work/family/modelling/cooking balance?
I think it's something I'm very aware of every day. I'm quite busy all the time, but I always take the time to relax. Having Phoenix does that for me. When I'm with him, we just play and enjoy our time together and I don't think about anything else.
Is Phoenix already a bit of a seasoned traveller?
Yes! His passport is already stamped a lot. He loves it, actually. We came back from the UK just before last Christmas. It was nearly a 30-hour flight to get from the UK to my mum's house in Mackay.
On the third flight I was like, "Phoenix, that's it – we've made it! We're here!" and he holds his finger up at me and says "No, mummy. I want one more flight."
What's your must-have travel essential?
When I get onto the plane, the first thing I do is wash off my makeup and lather my face with paw paw cream. My skin gets so dehydrated, and especially with modelling when you're flying for a job, your skin has to be perfect for when you arrive.
Sarah Todd graced magazine covers and catwalks around the world until she discovered a passion for food that lead her to MasterChef Australia 2014. After a shock elimination, a second chance saw her make it into the Top 10. You can follow Sarah's journey and view her recipes on sarahtodd.com.au