Will he win Masterchef South Africa? Or is tonight the end of the road for Durban contestant Deena Naidoo?
“The top 18 contestants already know who the winner is, but we’ve all been sworn to secrecy,” said Naidoo. “I still don’t really know what to expect in the final show,” is all he would tell us yesterday.
The 45-year-old IT specialist from Malvern has made it to the top three in the cooking competition, a position he says is a huge achievement for him.
Naidoo has survived six pressure (elimination) tests and produced dishes beyond his wildest imagination.
“I had to condition my mind to believe I could do it. But at the same time, making it to the top is quite scary. It’s at that point where you know you need to be at your absolute best. You know that anything can happen and that you are your biggest challenge,” he said.
After weeks of stress, pressure tests and sometimes harsh comments from the judges, Naidoo looked back on the show with admiration.
“The production team captured our emotions so well. Nothing about the show was staged,” he said. “You really do win on the plate you serve and there are no second chances.”
The father of three said he had not yet mastered a signature dish, instead focusing on gaining a wide repertoire of cuisine. “South Africa is a multicultural nation, so I tried to master all the cultures, from breyani to boerewors,” he said.
“We tend to stereotype people. When people see me, they think I’m the curry guy,” he said. “But I wanted to be respected as a MasterChef contestant, not a curry competition contestant.”
After learning to cook from a young age, Naidoo’s passion grew until he decided to build his own kitchen four years ago. “My dad was a builder so I learnt a lot from him,” he said.
“I think Durban food is not appreciated as much as it should be. We have so many amazing restaurants and such great talent here,” he said.
During weeks of filming, his greatest moment was meeting French celebrity chef Michel Roux. “It was surreal. It was like a football fan sitting having lunch and having Lionel Messi just walk up to them.
”The most difficult part was being away from my family,” he said. “I didn’t enter this competition without expecting a challenge, but I didn’t realise that this would be the hardest part for me.
“I was there for eight weeks and we filmed almost every day.”
But it was the contestants that got him through. “They were remarkable, and that made things a lot easier,” Naiddoo said.
Although filming of the competition was completed in February, viewers will get to see Naidoo compete with the other top three, Manisha Naidu and Sue-Ann Allen, one more time tonight, before the winner is announced next Tuesday.
The finale will be broadcast from the Mondovino restaurant in Montecasino – a new restaurant that will serve as one of the winner’s prizes.
Other prizes include R250 000 from Robertsons spices, a Hyundai Elantra 1.6 GLS, a seven-day culinary experience in Italy, an Italian cookery course courtesy of Woolworths and a customised sommelier course at Nederburg Winemaster’s Reserve.
l MasterChef South Africa airs on M-Net on Tuesdays at 7.30pm.