South Africas very first MasterChef Deena Naidoo included some of the delectable dishes he produced at the MasterChef competition for his very own restaurant, Aarya in MonteCasino. Picture:Motshwari Mofokeng

Durban - Creating his own menu has been a dream come true for South Africa’s very first MasterChef.

Deena Naidoo has included some of the delectable dishes he produced at the MasterChef competition for his very own restaurant, Aarya.

These include yummy butter chicken, Karen beef burgers, Karoo lamb shanks, and delightful deconstructed milk tart, just some of the dishes that earned rave reviews from the competition’s judges.

For Naidoo, opening his own restaurant is still a “very surreal” experience. “It’s a little unreal, such an honour, a dream come true,” he said.

The Durban chef opened the doors to his new restaurant in Montecasino in Johannesburg last week. Since opening, Aarya has been jam-packed.

He has taken over the kitchens at the MondeVino restaurant, which he has renamed Aarya, after his 10-year-old daughter.

“Her name is a Sanskrit word meaning noble, kind, honourable, dear, and favourable, and is considered to be a respectful way of addressing women… I am so privileged to share this dream with my family, who are such an inspiration to me.”

Naidoo added that food lovers would experience what his cooking was all about by visiting his restaurant.

“My passion for food, my influences, my love of combining spices and flavours are all reflected in the menu.”

“It’s an amalgamation of all my experiences and influences. There are certain types of food that made sense to carry over into the new menu – like pizza, because we have a beautiful wood-fired pizza oven in the kitchen, but the pizza creations are new and are mine.”

“Some dishes may be familiar to regulars, but they’ve been given a Deena twist. In other cases, we’ve taken some of the dishes that won a particular challenge on MasterChef and changed them to make them suitable for service in a restaurant.”

Naidoo said his restaurant would offer sophisticated yet recognisable food.

“We wanted to offer food that people love and recognise, like a burger. But this is not just any burger, it’s a grilled Karan beef burger with avocado, roasted onions, melted Emmental cheese, thick-cut French fries, served on an Italian ciabatta roll. It’s delicious!

“In other cases, like the deconstructed milk tart, what the guest tastes in Aarya is exactly what was presented to the judges.”

He’s pointed out his butter chicken as one of his signature dishes and says it is already proving to be a top seller.

Since Naidoo will only be in charge of the restaurant for two years, he has decided against relocating to Joburg and will commute to Joburg as often as he can.

“I will be here in Joburg as often as my work and family commitments in Durban allow. As a family, we are deeply invested in making this restaurant work, but my children are settled in Durban and uprooting them is not something I could do with a clear conscience.”

“So while I may not be here to meet every guest who dines here, every person who orders a dish from the menu will have a taste of who I am and why I was chosen as the MasterChef SA winner.”

Naidoo also rubbished claims that he had felt let down by the organisers of Masterchef, who gave him only two years in charge of the restaurant.

“Nowhere else in the world has a MasterChef winner been given the opportunity to become a professional chef – with no training, no experience and nothing more than their passion and love for food.”

“How could I be disappointed to have the opportunity to live my dream? The reality is that I’m a family man and the most important thing in my life is my wife and three children.

“My dream of being a chef comes a close second, but it’s still not my first priority.”

So what is Naidoo hoping to achieve during his two-year stint at Aarya restaurant?

He says: “I want to give people a taste of Deena. Not many MasterChef winners around the world have been given the opportunity I have, and I want to make sure that I live up to the expectations of my guests and MasterChef fans.”

Deena added that food lovers will experience diverse and multicultural influences in his food.

“Throughout MasterChef, I proved that I’m not the curry king and that my food reflects the South African palate, in all its diversity and multicultural influences. The new world is defined by spice, and the dishes on my menu are strongly spice and flavour-orientated.

“All Aarya’s dishes are close to my heart and to my philosophy of highlighting core flavours and using ingredients in moderation.” - Independent on Saturday