Raised bar whets the appetite

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TO deena 1 A WINNING MENU: MasterChef SA winner Deena Naidoo recently launched Aarya at Montecasino and is ensuring everything he does is in keeping with him staying true to his culinary dream.

With M-Net having concluded their nationwide search for the next amateur chef to clinch the title in season two of MasterChef SA, Debashine Thangevelo caught up with Deena Naidoo, the winner of season one, and found out about Aarya, his restaurant for two years, his advice for hopefuls, and how this year’s auditions went…

THE pressure-cooker environment in the kitchen for MasterChef SA is unimaginable unless you have been in the thick of it. And Deena Naidoo, 45, gained first-hand experience of just what it entailed when he decided to throw in his oar. Fortunately, his tenacity and fervour to play around with flavours and challenge himself saw him walk away with the title.

Spurred on by his success story, this year’s hopefuls apparently raised the bar, according to Ingrid Engelbrecht, M-Net’s publicist for original productions.

She said: “We saw less people at auditions this year. But the standard was head and shoulders above the type of dishes we were presented with last year. It was definitely a case of quality over quantity and, after watching season one, I believe the entrants realised that this is serious business.

“We had so many chance-takers last year – people who’d buy a dish from Woolworths and simply empty it on to a plate. This year, there was none of that. We were really elated by the extremely high standard.”

Of the three cities, Engelbrecht says Cape Town’s contestants were the most impressive.

TO masterchef 1 LET THE TASTING BEGIN: Some of the hopefuls outdid themselves at the Cape Town auditions.

“We were most impressed by the standard of dishes we saw in Cape Town, arguably the culinary capital of South Africa. For example, there was a woman who had smoked her own beef with rooibos tea. It sounds weird, but it was amazing. People baked their own breads, made complex terrines, and there were very few instances where any ingredient or element on a plate was store-bought. ”

The judges – Andrew Atkinson, Benny Masekwameng and Pete Goffe-Wood – were split among Joburg, Durban and Cape Town, respectively. They were joined by a panel of chefs from the SA Chefs Association.

Presently, the contestants are being shortlisted from 80 before chef boot camp starts.

In the meantime, Naidoo, just over three months after winning, has finally taken on his two-year reign of his restaurant – Aarya (named after his daughter) – at Montecasino.

And it has been a careful balancing act for the IT specialist as he’s been holding down his regular job, attending to other commitments at events and, at the same time, working on ensuring Aarya is the dinning experience he envisioned.

So has this left very little time for him in the kitchen?

“Very good question,” he laughs. “Kathy has been doing most of it for the family. I have been doing the testing for Aarya’s menu. In fact, I am testing a few vegetarian dishes as I feel I didn’t do justice to that.”

After Naidoo won, he said they wanted a menu that reflected the South African palate. In hindsight, I asked him how much of it he has been able to integrate into his menu.

“There were two criteria for me. One, I wanted to represent South Africa and, two, my MasterChef experience. I knew it was a mammoth task.”

He has, however, included his popular deconstructed milk tart and butter chicken on the menu. Other options include lamb shank, a burger in a ciabatta roll, lamb or pork ribs and even pizza – with a limit of four topping options.

The kitchen is now in an enclosed area and the colour schemes are orange, brown and earthy reds.

Naidoo’s advice for the new contestants is: “Over-confidence is your worst enemy. You have to fight and improve yourself con-stantly. Never feel you are good enough to take the title. Prepare and practise as much as possible. You are sacrificing a lot – don’t waste the opportunity.”


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