It’s been a rollercoaster ride for Deena Naidoo. Just over a year ago he was an IT specialist who loved to cook. He’s still those things, but has since added winning the demanding and prestigious first MasterChef South Africa competition and launching his own restaurant, named Aarya, in the vibrant Montecasino entertainment destination to his life experiences.
Through it all, Naidoo is a consistently family-centred man, coping with the vast changes in his life with humility and appreciation, as well as professionalism and aplomb.
Tsogo Sun, which is the hospitality and accommodation partner for MasterChef SA, is providing the fulfilment of a long-time dream for Naidoo – to become a chef with his own restaurant for two years. “The Aarya restaurant is a highly compatible venture that offers the combination of Tsogo Sun’s 40 years of experience in delivering top restaurant concepts all over the country and my passion for food,” says Naidoo.
Naidoo has loved to cook for as long as he could safely wield a spoon and can remember making his first meal when he was just seven years old. His interest, he says, was stimulated by a desire to prepare meals to suit his own taste. His late mother encouraged him to follow his love for food – and his family, his wife Kathy, his stepson Naveshan(23), his son Theshlin (15), and his daughter Aarya (11), after whom the restaurant was named, are now just as supportive and encouraging.
He was born and raised in Chatsworth, near Durban, and after matriculating from Protea High School in Bayview Chatsworth,he achieved a Diploma in Electrical Engineering Light Current, and became a Certified Microsoft Systems Engineer and a Certified SAP Technical Consultant. He is now an SAP Technical Specialist at one of the leading banks, where he thrives on the challenge of the job in a specialised field of IT.
Food, though, has been a self-taught venture throughout his life and he has spent years reading copiously, learning from others, experimenting, and indulging his “unparalleled passion” for all things culinary.
His two role models are Michel Roux, a two Michelin-starredchef in Britain who runs the world-famous La Gavroche restaurant in London, and Jackie Cameron, Executive Chef at Hartford House in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands and winner of several local chefs’ competitions. “I admire their skills, their wide knowledge and understanding of their craft, their passion for cooking, and their humility. This to me is a vital ingredient in every meal one prepares,” says Naidoo, who recognises that he in turn is a role model for up and coming chefs in South Africa for his recent achievement. “I learn a lot from my role models and believe that it’s imperative to always encourage a culture of learning within yourself. I would encourage any young chefs to do the same; to always see themselves as students because there is so much to learn out there in the wonderful world of food.”
Naidoo’s own approach to food and cooking is to keep it as simple as possible and focus equally on taste and the presentation of the meal. He clearly has a range of favourite meals, including his now famous award-winning butter chicken in a cashew and almond sauce, served with jeera basmati rice, but in describing his family’s favourites, he lists his as a wok-fried dish with cashews and a hint of chilli. His wife Kathy’s winning meal that he prepares is Thai food, while Aarya loves a potato spud with spinach and cheese sauce. The guys of the family love a traditional braai. As far as choosing a meal in a restaurant is concerned, Naidoo says he enjoys any meal that is better prepared than he could have prepared it himself – no easy task for practically any chef in this country!
Naidoo’s menu at Aarya reflects the multi-cultural South African nation, and is designed to delight South African palates of all age groups and cultures. Adds Naidoo, “Through the MasterChef experience, I learnt so much about South Africa and our multicultural country. MasterChef was an amazing education and I am striving to reflect my experiences in my menu.”
As Naidoo embraces his new life of being a restaurateur in Johannesburg, while living in Durban and staying on at his fulltime job, he recognises that there are challenges he will face, not least of which is commuting between the two cities and leaving his family back home in Durban. But he adds that his job at Aarya has been made much easier with the support of Tsogo Sun. “The Tsogo Sun team and all the staff that I meet have been amazingly supportive, beyond my expectations. I feel very privileged to have been blessed with this great team of people.”
On the ground in Aarya, Naidoo is integrally involved in the ongoing training of the restaurant staff to make sure that they continue to prepare his dishes according to his preferences.
The next two years will hold many more exciting experiences and challenges in the culinary world for this deserving winner, but all will be manageable with the ongoing support of Montecasino and the Tsogo Sun team, as well as the advice he shares with future MasterChef contestants – “Always plan and be prepared. There is no end to your preparation for this competition. You need to be tolerant of any situation that you are confronted with. Read, read and read more. This acquired knowledge will be your saving grace when you need it most.”
To book your table at Aarya and experience the menu that has kept the restaurant filled to capacity since its launch in November, call +27 11 557 7007.