MasterChef's Justin Narayan reveals how he spent $250k prize money

Justin Narayan spills on his MasterChef experience, post-show opportunities, and how the cooking competition changed his life.

Video transcript

JUSTIN NARAYAN: I've never been asked this question, like, publicly.


What made me want to apply for MasterChef, it was a unique year. Because we were all in COVID, locked down, ample time on your hands. You're contemplating a life and what you want to do. And I think a lot of people made some changes during that season.

And I was kind of like set on, like, you know what? I'm going to just open a food truck. On the one night, I registered a business name, like, applied, looked at buying a food truck.

And then MasterChef application was, like, the last day. And I'm like, Hail Mary. I'll just apply for that. I was just at that stage of life, where I was like, yeah, whatever. I've got heaps of time. I was, like, studying, cooking. So it's the weirdest time.

MasterChef was one of those things and then just did it. The world opened up again, kind of forgot about it for a bit. And then three months later, you get a call, and you're like, hey, this is so-and-so from MasterChef. And I'm like, Master-- I'm like-- I'm trying to be like, oh, that's right.

I thought it was a prank, thought it's weird. They're like, yeah, do you want to do it? I was like, yeah, sure, I'll give it a go. And kind of unfolded from there. And yeah, do the auditions, go to Melbourne. Melbourne from Perth, it's a long trip.

And that one was a big one because you had to-- Perth was tight on their lockdown. So if I went to Melbourne, I had to go back and quarantine for, like, two weeks. So it wasn't like a two-day trip.

So I was like, do I really want to do it? And I was like, oh, you know what? I don't think I will. Like, let me think about it longer. And then I called him back. I'm like, all right, I'll do it. And then, yeah, I went. Rest is history.

I never even thought of applying before. Like, everyone would always-- I was always like a keen cook, loved the show. Everyone would always be like-- all my mates are like, yeah, you should apply. This is sick. And I'm like, no, those guys are good, like, I don't know how to do half the stuff.

And then I got in. And then it was like, damn, I got to learn how to make choux pastry, puff pastries, ice cream. It's lockdown, and so I'm like, yeah, I'm just going to go mental and just cook. And I was doing it anyway just to stay sane. During lockdown, it was like the thing that-- it was like therapy for me. So I loved it.

Yeah, to be honest, I thought there'd be, like, some smoke and mirrors, or like you'd walk in, and there'd be a little bit of training or something. There'd be a little bit more guidance or something. Like, surely these guys just don't walk in and get 75 minutes to cook something.

But we literally all walked in. First time walking in the kitchen, I'm thinking, yeah, sweet, maybe we get a practice cook or something, like just some sort of way to get comfortable here? And it's like, all right, you've got 75 minutes to cook. And we're like-- we're just like, what?

We're all sitting there and look at each other. And then producer yells, cut, and is like, what are you guys doing? This is on. And we're like, it's on? Like, now?

And then you're just-- like, you're just running around. And the first 10 episodes, I feel like you're just trying to find where the equipment is and, like, where's the salt? You just run-- everything's just so manic and frantic. You're like, where's the salt? Where's this? it's just intense.

The judges were like-- yeah, you walk in, and it's like when you meet-- like, you see him on TV. And so, like, you walk in. You see someone in real life. You kind of have this weird, surreal-- like, you just want to like touch their face or be like, this is crazy. But you play it cool, obviously, like I did.

Yeah, they're just lovely, exactly, kind of like they want you to win the show, all the producers. Everything's like this. The challenges are hard. The pressure's there. But no one wants you to fail. 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. And when you're there, like, the emotion, everything, all of it feels real.

And you're in this lights are on, this bubble, this-- you walk into this kitchen. It's like walking into, like, a football field or an arena. The mentality switches. You literally think, like, my whole life, the universe, depends on this plate of food that I'm about to present. And if it fails, I think it-- like, everything will just crumble, and disappear, and I'll get swallowed up.

It's almost-- it's that intense because everything's on. It's kind of like that feeling. So the emotion is so raw.

It's not a competitive-- it is a competitive show, but it's not competitive. Like, every chef, guest chef, that comes in, every judge, every contestant, everyone's kind of like on the same team. They're like, hey, this is how you, like, get better at cooking food. This is how you get better at presenting the type of food you love.

Like, how do you share, how do you communicate, what you have inside of you on a plate and get a diner to experience that? Everyone's kind of like wanting to do that for you. So you're like-- you're taken back, even the contestants. Because at some point, you're going to be on a team challenge with someone.

So you want them all to be good because you don't want to be like, oh, damn it. I kept telling that guy the wrong recipes or whatever. No one ever does that. It's not like that. It's kind of like everyone's so helpful, so generous.

So you walk into, like, the best environment, just how much you excel, and how much you grow, and how much knowledge you can gain, and how good you get in, like, a short amount of time. I think that blew my mind, like, going from a rookie, home cook that literally never made like puff pastry or an ice cream from scratch, like at the start, like most normal home cooks, I think, to confidently just, yeah, I can whip out whatever.

It feels a little bit like yeah, I can-- I'm not a knob, I promise. But I'm like, yeah, I could make an ice cream. Yeah, how much you gain in that amount, how much they can pack into that little, concentrated amount of time is insane. It's like a lifetime worth of knowledge and experiences and exposure to chefs and cuisines and pressure. And yeah, it's-- that was incredible.

Like, genuinely, I thought I could win it when I got into the grand finale. That was when, like, oh, this is a chance, like, I could actually win MasterChef, which is still a wild thought. But the whole time before that, my mentality was kind of like just do your best with this cook and see where it goes.

I literally went to Melbourne with two T-shirts, took two weeks of leave. And I'll be like, yeah, I'll be back. And then I was like, hey, can I take an extra week unpaid? And then they're like, hey, are you going to quit now, or what's going to happen? And so yeah, my mentality was kind of like just take it a cook at a time.

I've never been asked this question, like, publicly. Yeah, it just hits your bank account one day, maybe two or three months, or something like that. So there's a good time period where you're like, yes, I'm-- and then you're like, wait, so I don't have a job. I don't know if this money's coming or not.

I kind of, like, the way I'm wired, I guess, or my commitment to it, is like 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 feel like there's a lot of pressure. You kind of like you-- yeah, 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.

It has this reputation. You kind of have this expectation. And you want to do something epic with it. The false kind of narrative is, like, you think you have to do it straight away, like, it's like, all right, like, won MasterChef. I need to, like, start a restaurant next week.

There's this, like, weird time pressure thing. But it's also like, nah, just take your time, grow, learn, keep progressing, stay committed to it. Yeah, taking that time pressure off, for me, was like a big win.

There's offers. There's, like, people are like, hey, do you want to? I could be a manager. I could do this. I could do that. And I'm like, I'm just-- like, I'm just going to chill. Just let time take it. Take your time to make good decisions.

And so I took that approach. I kind of was like, all right, I'll do, like-- yeah, I'll do what's in front of me. I'll take offers if they align, and they're fun and cool opportunities. But there wasn't kind of like-- I guess you can have this scarcity type mindset of like, this is going to disappear one day. This is your moment. I strike while the iron is hot type thing.

But I'm like-- I kind of just stuck to my guns. And I'm like, I'll keep building on this. I'll keep going. I'll keep learning. I'll want to keep doing something, hopefully, like, even greater in the future and make a bigger impact on the world in some way.

So that's kind of what I've always been committed to doing in my life. And I guess MasterChef's a moment along that journey. And hopefully, I can keep helping people, sharing stories, and doing that. So that's kind of what I'm committed to doing.

I'm trying to figure out what I can say or what I can't say. But yeah, heaps of like thought, energy, heart and soul. It's been two years, so it's like a two year-- actually, it's been more than that. I reckon I kind of had this idea years ago.

And it was just like a dream that maybe I'll do. But now it's like in MasterChef, definitely skipped a lot of steps and time and opportunities to making that happen. So that's really exciting.

But ones I would love to do is, like, I definitely love the whole TV entertainment side. So I would love to keep doing something like that, travel, and yeah, creating experiences for people. So yeah, that's what I'd love to do.

Just diving headfirst into the culinary world, learning as much as I can. Definitely have a huge respect for chefs, food, people on TV, what you guys do. There's so much work that goes into it. Because I'm, like, slowly dipping my toe into it, and I'm like, it's a lot of fun. I absolutely love it. I feel like I'm a baby in this brand new world, and I'm learning a lot.

I've always felt like I've been very fortunate in life. My parents were born and raised in Fiji. My grandparents, like, they kind of had nothing. We come, like, sugarcane farming, and then like my grandpa built a bus-- he was an orphan, built a business, like, migrated to Australia to give us opportunities to have a better life and have dreams of like cooking. They were never allowed to think like that. They had to be like, no, you work, provide first.

I kind of grew up in a world where, like, I could kind of do what I wanted. I could follow my passions in life. I could do youth work and help kids and not do work because of money. Like, I always felt so fortunate for that because they always kind of were like, yeah, do what you love. Dad was like, quit your job. Go do cook. It's like, you're Indian. Study. Be a doctor. Like, where's engineering? But he was like, yeah.

I always felt so empowered to follow the passion. I feel like so blessed, so fortunate, and so humbled that I get to do it. Very grateful for the platform, but I'm also grateful for just-- I think the experience genuinely changed me. Like, I always thought I was like an OK cook. I never thought I'd be, like, a good cook. You know what I mean?

But when you have, like, the best chefs in Australia kind of eat your food and pay it compliments and be like, this is incredible, like they'd pay money for it, to be like, damn, like, this is crazy. I didn't think I was-- the food was that good. I always tried to share it with people as much as I can. And to be able to do it with everything now, like, is really special, like I feel so blessed, so fortunate.

Yeah, my advice to people or anyone really kind of trying to pursue their passions or gets the opportunity, it's kind of like, number one would be look after yourself. Do the work, yeah, and look after yourself the most. Everyone will always be trying to get your time, trying to get something from you. It's like, yeah, all that stuff's good and important.

But it's like, don't let it change it too much. Be the best version of you. Spend time with people you love the most, for me, which would be my wife, my family. I think everything I ever do will always revolve around that. And then everything else from there, like, is good.

Because it's like, what's the point of having everything else if you lose all those things you love the most? That would be my advice, is, like, love yourself and love the people closest to you. And I think yeah, you'll have a good life. You'll be-- you'll love it, yeah.