The trip changed her life. “The moment I got off the plane, people were mobbing me,” she recalls. “I hadn’t realised MasterChef airs in India; I was recognised wherever I went!” Soon she was being asked to do cooking demonstrations and make celebrity appearances.
Impressed by her culinary skills, an Indian restaurateur then asked her to go into business with him to establish a restaurant in Goa. “I thought, what an exciting opportunity,” she says. “And as the restaurant is closed during monsoon season, it meant I could still be based half the time in Australia.”
Hearing about Todd’s venture, an Australian production company asked if they could make a series on her efforts. The result, My Restaurant in India, has aired in 150 countries, propelling her to global fame. Viewers watched in fascination as the photogenic young Queenslander gradually set up the restaurant and beach house.
“Gosh, there were headaches along the way, but it all worked out in the end!” she says. “The 70 staff here have become like family to us. They’ve watched Phoenix grow up, and he’s so proud of this place. He’s always saying, ‘My mummy owns this restaurant.’ ”
Phoenix and Todd’s mother, Lorraine, a frequent visitor to Goa, are equally devastated Antares has burned down.
“[The fire] happened after a neighbour decided to do some burning off,” Todd says. “Sparks flew over to our roof, and soon there was a huge fire. Thankfully, the restaurant was closed and only a couple of staff were there when it happened. One alerted me, and I raced back to the property and just watched the flames destroy it all. It was very scary.”
Still, Todd says, she is somewhat used to the roller-coaster that is life in India. “At its best, it’s such a vibrant, wonderful place,” she reflects. “At its worst – well, it’s a reminder of how lucky we are in Australia to have things happen in a well-ordered fashion!”
As well as now having to rebuild Antares, Todd is focused on her second restaurant, The Wine Rack, which opened in Mumbai early last year (featured on My Second Restaurant in India, which aired on SBS this month). “That’s going well, after a few early setbacks, like no gas and no liquor licence!” she says. “So many things went wrong at the start. Sometimes people ask me if anything was hyped up to add drama to the series. ‘Gosh, no!’ I tell them, ‘You don’t know the half of it!’ ”
Once Antares is rebuilt, Todd would love to start a restaurant in Australia.
“Though India holds a special place in my heart, with Phoenix at school in Melbourne, I hope to spend more time there over the next few years,” she says.
Oh, and there’s also another cookbook on the way, “showcasing some of the amazing food regional India has to offer”.