MasterChef SA bomb bursts about Deena Naidoo’s Tsogo Sun MondeVino Restaurant prize!


It was too good to be true. MasterChef SA came to a Grande Finale end earlier this week, and despite questions about the MondoVino restaurant being part of the R 8 million prize package not being answered satisfactorily, everyone accepted M-Net’s word that the winner of MasterChef SA would receive the restaurant.  Ironically the screening of the Finale, with the 18 Finalists present, was held at MondoVino restaurant at the Montecasino Palazzo Hotel on Tuesday evening.  At the ceremony, MasterChef SA winner Deena Naidoo received the ceremonial whisk to represent his prize of winning the restaurant from Graham Wood, MD of Tsogo Sun – Hotels.

Yesterday an explosive article appeared in The Citizen, disputing the prize and its value of R 7 million out of the R8 million package (the balance being R 250000 in cash from Robertsons, a car from Hyundai, a trip to Tuscany from Woolworths, and a course on winetasting by the Sommeliers’ Association of South Africa with a year’s supply of Nederburg Winemaster’s Reserve). The article quoted Deena expressing his dissatisfaction with the prize value, saying that he only received a two year usage of the restaurant, and in fact will only be present at it ‘about five times a month’, according to the contract he signed with restaurant owners Tsogo Sun. The restaurant is to be renamed Aarya, after Deena’s daughter, and is currently being refurbished, for re-opening in November.  Deena will add his ‘own flair to the menu and the restaurant would be a reflection of South Africa’, the newspaper reported.

In all the comments made on our blog and on Twitter about Deena, his humility and passion for cooking were praised.  Uncharacteristic therefore was the quote which The Citizen attributed to him in their article: ‘I am not an R8 million man. The perception that I am sitting with that money is unfair and it is time for the public to know this.  I don’t want people to to look at it as if I am this guy sitting with all this cash’. It was also made known that Deena has no intention of moving to Johannesburg, from his home in Durban, saying that despite winning the MasterChef SA title, his family comes first.  He explained that the restaurant’s replacement value is R7 million, and this is how the R8 million prize package was quantified.

M-Net spokesperson Ingrid Engelbrecht denied that they had created a false perception that the MasterChef SA winner would receive his or her own restaurant, countering that Tsogo Sun had made ‘various, flexible options’ available for the winner, depending on where the winner lived, and their personal circumstances. We questioned the feasibility of the restaurant prize for non-Johannesburg residents, and received a similar reply from Ms Engelbrecht in April already:‘Regarding the restaurant prize, Southern Sun is happy to tailor-make the options in order to meet the needs of the winner and to ensure that all parties are happy going forward with this amazing prize. They will take into account factors such as the contestant not being from Johannesburg, having a family and any other obligations, and will assist to whatever degree is necessary’. Ms Engelbrecht is quoted in The Citizen article as saying that the winner of MasterChef SA won the position of Head Chef for a two year period, with a value of R 7 million.  Deena is to receive a percentage of the restaurant’s profits, but will not own its title deed.

Yesterday afternoon we received the media statement from Priya Naidoo, Tsogo Sun’s General Manager: Communication, refuting the explosive article in The Citizen. We publish it in its entirety, and leave it to the reader to decide what’s cooking at the MasterChef SA MondoVino Restaurant at Montecasino in Johannesburg:

‘M-Net and Tsogo Sun refute claims made by the Citizen newspaper today that MasterChef South Africa winner Deena Naidoo is disappointed with his prize package, and that he will not be getting his own restaurant. This is factually incorrect.  The total restaurant prize included (amongst other things) the full-time running and rebranding of the floor space. This arrangement was rent free, for two years. However, M-Net and Tsogo Sun structured the sponsorship to permit the MasterChef winner to choose between various options of participation in the restaurant, knowing that the winner might not be able to take up such a fantastic prize. Deena elected a joint venture operation where he will share in the restaurant profits and partake in the rebranding and relaunch of the restaurant. This will run for two years. This decision was based on the fact that Deena, his wife and children are unable to relocate to Johannesburg at this time.

“I consider myself privileged and am extremely grateful to have won this prize. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Naidoo. “At no point have I ever been disappointed with the arrangement I have with M-Net and Tsogo Sun. In fact, they have been extremely accommodating and flexible and are allowing me the chance to run this restaurant whilst keeping my current job in Durban. Tsogo Sun appreciates that my family comes first. I couldn’t be more excited to embark on this journey with them.” M-Net and Tsogo Sun explained the terms and options available to the Top 2 contestants while the series was still being filmed, and all parties were fully aware of what they would be entering into, should they win the prize, which consists of: R250 000 in cash, a brand new car, a trip to Italy and an Italian cooking course, a year’s free supply of wine and a sommelier course, as well as the Tsogo Sun restaurant opportunity.  Naidoo adds, “I never expected to have R8 million in my bank account and any reports that suggest this are simply untrue. I wanted to clear up the misconception that this might be the case, and in the process, it was asserted that I’ve been let down by M-Net and Tsogo Sun. This is inaccurate.”  Naidoo will embark on his restaurant adventure in November’.

The Citizen has written a follow-up story, confirming the accuracy of their article: ‘We reaffirm the accuracy and veracity of the story and would like to express our disappointment with M-Net and Naidoo’s reaction’. The newspaper stated that Deena had provided the information to their journalist, and that she had followed up with him to make sure that he was happy with the quotes attributed to him.

The Cape Argus wrote on Tuesday that ‘the bulk of the R8m prize comprises the anticipated profits from “owning” the restaurant’, quoting Ms Engelbrecht.

A Direct Message to Deena yesterday afternoon via Twitter, requesting guidance as to which story to believe, has not been replied to.  Deena stopped Tweeting altogether after The Citizen article appeared yesterday morning. Whatever the outcome of this furore, the reputation of MasterChef SA, Tsogo Sun, M-Net, the chef judges, and its affiliated sponsors has been severely damaged by The Citizen article.  If Deena did speak to the media, this will have been a major wake-up call to him to deal with the media with kid gloves!

POSTSCRIPT 28/7: Deena Naidoo started Tweeting in the early hours of this morning again, ReTweeting a link to an article.  In the article he discusses the short-term future with his new restaurant: While Mondevino has a strong Italian focus, Naidoo says, when he takes over, that will change. ‘Expect a menu of dishes ranging from pap and tomato gravy to milk tart and even my butter chicken.’ While Durban-born Naidoo said he would have liked to open a restaurant in his home town, this won’t be the case.  “The location was earmarked for various logistical reasons. It is in a vibrant area with huge potential and, as industry leaders, I understand and trust in Tsogo Sun’s reasoning.”  Even though a move to Joburg looks inevitable, he has no plans to uproot his family just yet.  “I’m only thinking about the next three months for now and I will continue working (for Nedbank) and we will continue to stay in Durban,” he said’.

POSTSCRIPT 29/7: Deena Naidoo is quoted in the same article that the MondoVino restaurant will come under his ‘expert hands from November’, which seems inaccurate given that he has never run a restaurant before, and will not be at MondeVino more than 5 times a month.

POSTSCRIPT 29/7: In the Sunday Times today the newspaper reports that Deena Naidoo has not made himself available to the media for clarification of this media furore, as we too have discovered, still awaiting his reply, implying that Deena is now under the strict media control of M-Net’s PR department, one of the prices he will have to pay for having won MasterChef SA.  The newspaper adds that Deena will receive a three month ‘business training’ programme, to teach him Financial, HR and Restaurant management.  An odd sentence, to explain why he would only be at the restaurant five times a month, is: ‘Also, if I start running the place, I will lose the passion that brought me into this competition, and that is to cook‘!  In contrast to media reports earlier this week, Deena is said to have indicated that he will not make drastic changes to the restaurant ‘just to show people that I am there‘!

POSTSCRIPT 30/7: There is another side to Deena Naidoo coming to the fore – from his gentlemanly and humble personality projected on MasterChef SA, he showed defiance when he Tweeted yesterday in reply to a question about cutting corners with the apples in his dessert he prepared in the Finale as follows: ‘instinct told me to do that hate following recipes‘!

POSTSCRIPT 31/7: Channel24 reported today that The Citizen has lodged a complaint with the Broadcast Complaints Commission of South Africa against Talk Radio 702 for describing its MasterChef SA report last week as ‘misleading’ and for M-Net’s Ingrid Engelbrecht calling it ‘very inaccurate‘.  The complaint is based on the code’s requirements that facts must be truthfully presented, that opposing points of view must be presented, and that a right of reply must be offered. The newspaper says that the radio coverage about the newspaper’s report did not meet any of these requirements.

POSTSCRIPT 2/8: Caryn Gootkin, blogger and media writer, has used her legal background to analyse the MasterChef SA prize package, and found various descriptions by M-Net about its MondoVino restaurant prize. The broadcaster’s PR department refused to make the contestant contract available, which we were refused as well.  She introduces the article by saying that the ‘ingredients for a disaster were there from the start‘!  She believes the issue could contravene the Advertising Standards Authority code on trust.

POSTSCRIPT 22/8: Channel 24 reported today that an anonymous person has lodged a complaint of ‘misleading advertising‘ against M-Net for its alleged misrepresentation of the MasterChef SA MondoVino prize at the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).  The ASA has confirmed that the complaint has been lodged, but has not revealed the identity of the complainant.  It is awaiting the response from M-Net’s legal team.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage: Twitter: @WhaleCottage

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11 replies on “MasterChef SA bomb bursts about Deena Naidoo’s Tsogo Sun MondeVino Restaurant prize!”

  1. Your Honour, I rest my case. And just in time, as there is much more to all of this …

  2. It affects everyone associated with MasterChef SA Pete, including yourselves as chef judges.

    Everything was so clean-cut, honest, and warm, and this is a very sad end to what was a fabulous reality TV series. You as judges were the front-face of the show, featured in all its advertising, even though you have nothing specifically to do with the prize allocation.

    Did you as chef judges ask questions about the prize package when you took on the job?


  3. There are all manner of allegations being thrown around and as usual most people form their opinion from other’s comments and not from an examination of the facts.
    The prize was and remains a restaurant that would be RENT FREE for two years should the winner decide to run it on a daily basis. The winner would have been financially responsible for the day to day operations but would retain all of the profits. The prize has been correctly valued at R7 million rand as this is based upon the turnover of the restaurant.
    After the two year period was up the winner was able to continue their business but would have to negotiate a lease based on a market related rental.
    In order to run the restaurant effectively Deena would have to be at the restaurant fulltime which would have meant uprooting his wife & kids to live in Johannesburg and I fully respect his right to choose not to do so.
    Tsogo Sun have not cheated anyone in fact they have gone out of their way to accommodate Deena’s wishes not to relocate and both parties have come to mutually beneficial arrangement.
    I firmly believe that from the outset this entire production has been executed with integrity – from the initial round of cold plates to the final triumph of Deena as the first SA MasterChef.
    There is no question that we have had our detractors – the comments column on most social media sights have made it evident that our efforts have not been enjoyed by all and sundry. But the positive column inches we received on virtually every relevant media site, broadsheet & magazine in the country prove that the detractors are a small minority.
    I challenge anyone to find one of the MasterChef SA contestants that feel they were cheated by us, the producers, Mnet or the sponsors.
    In my personal capacity as a judge I have been over whelmed by the positive response that I have received from the public and I am proud to have been a part of what has been ground breaking South African television

  4. Thank you for your detailed reply Pete.

    Turnover is not profit, and we all know how tough it is to make a profit in these tough times. From turnover must be deducted salaries, food costs, and overheads, so one can question if a profit of just less than R300000 per month is achievable, to get to the R7 million figure.

    The detail which you provide about the rent free restaurant was not provided in any public communication MasterChef SA communication. It has only been mentioned since Friday. The winner would never have seen the turnover, given the deductions, so it was a misleading figure. To the organisers credit (or maybe not), the value of the prize was not broken down into such detail, and was not questioned until The Citizen story broke on Friday.

    When I spoke to M-Net’s Ingrid Engelbrecht about the implication of the prize for non-Johannesburgers in April, she implied that the winner could equally run a restaurant belonging to the then named Southern Sun in the hometown of the winner. That no longer seems correct, as Deena has expressed his wish to run a restaurant in Durban.

    I agree that the majority of TV viewers enjoyed MasterChef SA, and therefore the restaurant prize controversy should be put to bed with a credible explanation, better than M-Net and Tsogo Sun attempted defensively on Friday.


  5. It seems to me that although Deena may have known what the actual prize entailed, the public did not and assumed he would get his own restaurant.

    I think the media have twisted this one a bit and I am sure Deena is more than happy with his prizes.

    Compared to the International versions of MasterChef, the main prize is still amazing!

  6. Thanks for your comment Daniel.

    The prizes would have been made clear to the Finalists from the beginning, one can assume. Why would Deena have made the fatal comments to the journalist, probably trusting her naively, if he was happy with the prize?


  7. Superb.
    Thanks for this page on MasterChef SA bomb bursts about Deena Naidoo

  8. All Deena has done for years is chase his dream to cook. I met him at the Good Food and Wine show a few years ago and he was filled with enthusiasm!

    I have watched him grow from strength to strength as a chef and he is enormously talented…he probably entered every competition he came across! I have not encountered many people with the determination that he has been blessed with!

    I hope Deena gets a fair chance to live out his dream and that Masterchef provides him with a platform to do so.

    Yudhika Sujanani

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