If you’ve watched MasterChef Australia 13 and followed Justin Narayan’s journey religiously, you know how incredible his underdog victory was. From being a young pastor to winning the title, the first -generation Australian chef inspired many and has been living his culinary dream since. Currently, Narayan is in India to treat fans with his signature Indo and Fijian flavours.
In collaboration with ‘World On A Plate', the chef curated a six-course degustation menu at The Sahib Room & Kipling Bar at The St. Regis in Mumbai, which featured dishes such as spiced chicken liver pate, kingfish kokoda, butter poached lobster, lamb backstrap, spiced mushroom pate, taro kokoda, hasselback potatoes, and roast king oyster mushroom. In an exclusive chat with Zee Zest, the chef talked about his obsession with tacos, his new venture, favourite restaurants in Australia, food trends that will rule 2023 and more.
Excerpts of the interview:
1. Apart from introducing food enthusiasts to your culinary experiments, what drives you to these food pop-ups?
I guess what II love is the magical power that food has of bringing people together, the comfort and the joy people have while having food. With the incredible conversations and meetings, I feel like every great moment in life happens around food or meals. For me, pop-ups serve this purpose and selfishly I can say that this is a great way to challenge myself and grow while pushing myself, so I am always up for the challenge.
2. Tell us about your obsession with tacos and your pop-up restaurant Juzzy’s Tacos.
Juzzy’sTacos pop-up idea kind of birthed at MasterChef. I used to make a few tacos there and people kept asking for them, so it happened this way. We had a few pop-ups in Sydney which was fun and who knows, with Juzzy’s Tacos, some conversations are happening with some restaurants in Sydney and continuing the pop-ups and if we meet the right people in India, we can start something here which will be really fun.
3. 2021 has genuinely been the best year of your life. How has 2022 treated you?
2021, yes was a pretty big year- won Masterchef and got married! I also feel like 2022 has been amazing, incredible opportunities and married life is great. But yes, I have another restaurant concept which is more of a refined taco placewith a little bit more technique involved with the dishes and produce. Both restaurants source the best ingredients but there is a restaurant concept that you will be seeing very shortly, inspired by my family and my roots.
4. Any plans of opening your own restaurant sometime soon? And what can one expect from a meal at your restaurant?
I think yes, but don’t want to make any promises yet. It’s too soon, but yes, every time they come to my pop-up or restaurant, I want people to feel like they just walked into my house, had a great meal and a good time, and made some good memories. They get to know me through my food, and I get to know them a lot better. There definitely will be family recipes in there because that’s a part of who I am, and I have always been inspired by them.
5. Since you have a strong connection with India, do you intend to open a restaurant here?
A restaurant in India would be incredible to do. I think I would continue doing maybe the taco cuisine, more purpose-driven food, and Fijo-Indian food would be fun but nothing as of yet. Hopefully, with a couple more trips over here, I might get to know more about the seasonality of the produce here, the ingredients, and their landscape.
6. Do you have any favourite Indian restaurant here that you would love to go back to?
Fortunately, I have ended up cooking inside those restaurants. Maybe next time during my leisure trip, I will visit those restaurants and with their unbelievably good food here in India. So far on this trip, the best place that I have been to is the Southern Spice of the Taj, which was nice.
7. What’s your favourite Indian restaurant in Australia?
There is a restaurant in Seven Hills called Indo Lankan, I think that is just where my family goes out and the food there is good, but it is more about the memories I have of going out with my family there. My grandparents loved that place so yeah so that would be it.
8. If you had to take someone on a food trail in Australia what all restaurants would you cover?
If I had to take someone for a food trip in Australia, it really depends on what they like. If they are more into fine-dining experience, then I can take them to Attica in Melbourne, Wildflower is delicious and for more of a casual experience, there is Poljana.
9. What’s your most favourite ingredient?
It’s not really an ingredient but I love - love, and yes, I love salt. It’s really basic but a good quality salt I think makes a world of difference while you’re cooking a dish. It brings out the flavour of everything so yes, it is a very underrated ingredient but yes salt it is, easily.
10. Your thoughts on progressive Indian cuisine?
I think it’s great. Indian food, if you look at how big and regional it is, then it is progressive cuisine. It is full of innovation because it uses whatever products are available in that region and whatever climate provides, people in India cook with it. And they invented so many incredible dishes;I think if time goes on like this then we need to hold on to some things. A lot of which I think is great and it keeps the spirit alive. You know just to see what is available in your local market, see what quality you’re getting and create a dish you know. Put some things together, taste them and experiment with them. I think that is how we got all these iconic dishes in India like the vada pav, and biryani and they are all a product of innovation and creation. I think Indian food is now progressing toward its next stage. Which involves a little bit more of a technique, and a little bit of elevation but the essence of it is not changing. So, I am a huge fan of this cuisine and I think then why not keep things going if you fail, you fail but at least you gave it a go. I love it, whether it is good or bad, I think if people are giving it a go, then it is a step in the right direction.
11. What are some of the biggest food trends that you think will rule 2023?
I honestly think traditional food is going to become more and more popular. In the sense when I think people from different regions of a country create dishes like khandwa, I guess they tame down some of the flavours and the spice to cater to the masses, but I think more and more people would want to experience the original food. I am taking that as one of the biggest trends, just traditional, authentic, and regional foods. Whether in India or anywhere in the world, I think it is going to become more and more popular. And people are more into it, you got the internet, the TV shows, people are exposed to the variety, and they want to go down that road. They want to have different food like South Indian and not just North Indian, which you know is one of the most popular foods. I think regional food is going to become more and more popular.