Surprising way MasterChef's Justin Narayan spent $250k prize money
EXCLUSIVE: The season 13 winner opens up about his time on the show.
In 2021, 27-year-old youth pastor Justin Narayan was named the thirteenth winner of MasterChef Australia.
The Fijian-Indian chef has now opened up to Yahoo Lifestyle about his time in the cooking competition, the pressure he felt after winning, and the surprising way he spent his $250,000 prize money.
Why did you apply for MasterChef?
“It was a unique year because we were all in Covid lockdown, ample time on your hands, you're contemplating life and what you want to do,” he details. “I was kind of set on like, I'm going to just open a food truck. In the one night, I registered a business name, looked at buying a food truck, and then the MasterChef application was the last day and I was like, I’ll just apply for that. I was just at that stage of life where I was like, whatever.
“I just did it, the world opened up again, I kind of forgot about it for a bit, and then three months later, you get a call and they’re like, ‘Hey, this is so and so from MasterChef’. I thought it was a prank! They were like, ‘Do you want to do it?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah sure, I’ll give it a go’, and it kind of unfolded from there.
“I never even thought of applying before. I was always a keen cook, loved the show and all my mates were like, ‘You should apply!’. And I’d be like, ‘No, those guys are good, I don’t know how to do half the stuff’. Then I got in and then it was like, damn, I’ve got to learn how to make choux pastry, puff pastries, ice cream!”
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What was your experience like on season 13?
“To be honest, I thought there'd be some smoke and mirrors or you'd walk in and there'd be a little bit of training or there'd be a little bit more guidance or something,” he admits. “I was like, surely these guys just don't walk in and then get 75 minutes to cook something?
“First time walking into the kitchen I was thinking, maybe we’ll get a practice cook or something to get comfortable here. And [the judges] were like, ‘Alright, you’ve got 75 minutes to cook’ and we were just like, ‘What?’. We were all standing around looking at each other, and then the producer yelled ‘cut’ and he was like, ‘What are you guys doing? This is on!’.
“We were just running around and I feel like the first 10 episodes you’re just trying to find where the equipment is. Everything's just so manic and frantic. You're like, ‘Where’s the salt?’. It’s just intense. That was a surprise for me.”
What was the pressure like?
“The challenges are hard, the pressures there, but no one wants you to fail,” he shares. “No one wants you to fall over and completely ruin this. So everyone kind of wants you to do well, and it was cool to experience that in person.
“When you’re there, the emotions, everything, all of it feels real. It's like walking into a football field or an arena, the mentality switches and you literally think the universe depends on this plate of food that I'm about to present, and if it fails, everything will just crumble and disappear and I'll get swallowed up. It's that intense, the emotion is so raw.”
What did you spend your prize money on?
“I've never been asked this question publicly,” he confesses. “It just hits your bank account one day, maybe like two or three months [after the show]. So there's a good time period where you're like, ‘Yes!’ and then you're like, ‘Wait, I still don’t have a job, I don't know if the money's coming or not’.
“The way I'm wired, I wanted to be generous with it, so I ended up donating a lot of it and giving some away to some people that I thought needed it more than me. And then made some investments with the rest of it.
“I actually didn't spend any of it [on myself]. I probably should have, in retrospect. But I was kind of like, I’m not going to buy anything flash, I'm not going to do anything, and I don't have any regrets with it. Sometimes I'm like, ‘Why did I give it away, I could’ve bought this now’, but at the same time I’m like, I never wanted money to control me. I always want to be generous with it. There's heaps more where it came from. Just be generous, keep helping people, and things will work out.”
How did you navigate life after the show?
“You win MasterChef and I feel like there's a lot of pressure,” he says. “There's an expectation that you do something great with it, and you also have that pressure on yourself that you want to make the most of it.
“The false narrative is you think you have to do it straight away. It's like, ‘Alright, I won MasterChef, I need to start a restaurant next week’. There's this weird time pressure thing, but it's also like, just take your time, grow, learn, keep progressing and stay committed to it. Taking that time pressure off for me was a big win.
“I guess you can have this scarcity-type mindset of like, ‘This is going to disappear one day, strike while the iron’s hot’. But I kind of just stuck to my guns and I was like, I’ll keep building on this. I’ll keep growing, I’ll keep learning. I want to keep doing something hopefully even greater in the future and make a bigger impact on the world in some way.”
What’s on your bucket list?
“There are some exciting things happening this year,” he teases. “I don't know what I'm allowed to say, but there are heaps of fun things coming which I'm super excited about.
“It's been two years, so it's like a two-year project. Actually, it's been more than that. I had this idea years ago and it was just like a dream that maybe I'll do, but MasterChef definitely skipped a lot of steps and time and opportunities to make that happen, so that's really exciting.
“I've done a couple of pop-ups, and it would just be an extension of some of those pop-ups becoming a little bit more real, a little bit more tangible… They’re epic, I’m so pumped. I literally go to sleep at night and just dream about this.
“But things I would love to do is I definitely love the whole TV entertainment side, so I’d love to keep doing something like that, travel, and create experiences for people.”
What are you most thankful to MasterChef for?
“I’m very grateful for the platform, but I'm also grateful just because I think the experience genuinely changed me,” he remarks.
“I always thought I was an okay cook, I never thought I'd be a good cook. But when you have the best chefs in Australia eat your food and pay it compliments and be like, ‘This is incredible’, you’re like, damn this is crazy. That full-on changed me and gave me a little bit more confidence to put it out there and be unapologetic about it.
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“This has always been my thing, my hobby, I've always loved it, always tried to share it with people as much as I can, and to be able to deal with everything now is really special. I feel so blessed, like so fortunate and so humbled that I get to do it. I think a lot of people don't get to do what they love every day, whether they get paid for it or not. I hope someone gets to do something they love today because it's the best thing ever, and I get paid for it now, which is kind of crazy. I’m very grateful for that.”
What’s your advice for future contestants?
“My advice to people, or anyone really trying to pursue their passions or gets the opportunity, number one would be to look after yourself,” he shares.
“Everyone will always be trying to get your time, trying to get something from you, or it will feel limited and you'll feel this like, ‘Strike while the iron’s hot’. All that stuff's good and important, but don't let it change you too much. Just do the work on yourself, be the best version of you, spend time with people you love the most, and then everything else from there is good.
“Because it's like, what's the point of having everything else if you lose all those things you love the most? So that would be my advice. Love yourself and love the people closest to you and I think you'll have a good life.”
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