MasterChef SA season 1 winner Deena Naidoo has opened his restaurant Aarya at the Montecasino Hotel, the largest prize in the package he won for being South Africa’s top amateur chef, and valued by sponsor Tsogo Sun at R7 million for the two year period. He renamed the MondoVino restaurant Aarya, giving it his daughter’s Sanskrit name meaning noble, honourable, dear, and favourable, and is a respectful way of addressing women, explained Chef Deena.
Chef Deena compiled a new menu, and has emphasised that it will not just be Indian cuisine: “Our menu draws from all the diverse South African cuisines. It will reflect the South African nation and what theMasterChef competition was all about, which was bringing people from diverse cultures and backgrounds together. Through this experience, I learnt so much about South Africa and our multicultural people. I’ve never been so proud to be South African. MasterChef was an amazing education and I aim to reflect my experiences in my menu.” Even though Chef Deena proved on MasterChef SA that he knows his spices, he does not want to be seen as the ‘curry king‘, he said. The Aarya menu is ‘strongly spice and flavour-orientated’, and each dish highlights ‘core flavours and using ingredients in moderation’. He has included his butter chicken, which Chef Pete Goffe-Wood swooned about and finished the rest of on MasterChef SA, as well as his mystery basket dish of coriander-crusted lamb loin. Starters include couscous salad, potted snoek with beer bread, pan-fried black mushrooms, with blueberry confit and melted chilli brie, peri-peri chicken livers, and Saldanha Bay mussels, reported the Sunday Times. Other main courses include pasta and pizza. The dessert list includes deconstructed milk tart, strawberry and rhubarb crème brûlée, malva pudding, and cardamom panna cotta with gooseberry coulis.
While one can understand Chef Deena’s excitement about opening his first restaurant, and seeing the reward for his dedication and passion for cooking during the 18-programme MasterChef SA series, the media release posted on MediaUpdate gushes about his relationship with Tsogo Sun, one that did not start off well when Chef Deena was quoted by The Citizen as saying that the prize package and value was a con, denied by him subsequently. The newspaper persisted, and took the matter to the Advertising Standards Authority, but lost the case. He only seems to talk via the hotel group’s PR department now, and it shows in the quotes attributed to him, not reflecting his gentle and humble way of speaking on TV: “Aarya is the culmination of a harmonious two-year partnership that will offer the perfect combination of Tsogo Sun’s 40 years of experience in delivering top restaurant and food & beverage concepts to South Africans all over the country and my passion for food. It promises to be a wonderful experience for our diners, staff, and for myself. This is a partnership that offers me my dreams while allowing me to stay true to my first love – my family – and providing the backup and support of one of the country’s most experienced hospitality companies. It’s an extremely humbling experience”.
The newly refurbished restaurant has a wall of honour of the highlights of MasterChef SA, with photographs of Chef Deena’s fellow MasterChef SA contestants. The media release does not state that Chef Deena will only be at the restaurant five days a month, having decided to continue his employment at Nedbank. One hopes that Chef Deena has brushed up on his wine knowledge since MasterChef SA, on the South African Sommelier Association course, which was part of the prize sponsored by Nederburg.
Aarya, SunSquare, Montecasino. Tel (011) 557-7007 www.montecasino.co.za
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage