Surprising way MasterChef winner spent prize money

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A recent MasterChef winner has revealed the surprising way he spent his $250,000 prize money, dishing on one very generous detail.

Justin Narayan was crowned the thirteenth winner of MasterChef Australia in 2021, when he was just 27 years old and worked a day job as a youth pastor.

The Fijian-Indian chef had plenty to share about the culture behind the show in a recent interview, but he also opened up about the surprising way he spent his quarter-of-a-million dollar prize.

MasterChef winner Justin Narayan has opened up about the surprising way he spent his $250k.MasterChef winner Justin Narayan has opened up about the surprising way he spent his $250k.

Narayan confessed he had “never been asked this question publicly”, before revealing he hadn’t spent a cent of the winnings on himself.

“I actually didn’t spend any of it [on myself]. I probably should have, in retrospect,” he told Yahoo.

“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 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.”

Narayan said it took “two or three months” before the money even hit his bank account.

“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,” he shared.

2018 winner Sashi Cheliah used his winnings to open a pair of transcontinental restaurants.2018 winner Sashi Cheliah used his winnings to open a pair of transcontinental restaurants.2014 winner Brent Owens gave $50,000 of his prize money to fellow contestant Emelia Jackson.2014 winner Brent Owens gave $50,000 of his prize money to fellow contestant Emelia Jackson.

Other past MasterChef winners have also opened up about how they spent the big prize.

Chef Sashi Cheliah, who won the competition in 2018, poured his winnings into opening two restaurants — one in Adelaide and another in India — while Brent Owens, who won in 2014, spent part of his prize on fellow contestant Emelia Jackson, making good on a top-four pact to give away $50,000.

Narayan dished on other details of the show, including what he said was an “intense” environment and a surprising lack of practical support for contestants behind the scenes.

“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 a little bit more guidance or something,” he admitted.

“I was like, surely these guys just don’t walk in and then get 75 minutes to cook something. My 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, ‘All right, 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.”

Narayan (right) dished on the “intense” behind the scenes environment of the show, as well as a lack of training for contestants.Narayan (right) dished on the “intense” behind the scenes environment of the show, as well as a lack of training for contestants.

Narayan said he applied for MasterChef Australia amid a burst of lockdown productivity, when he had “ample time on (his) hands” and was “contemplating life and what (he) wanted to do”.

“It was a unique year … I was kind of set on like, I’m going to just open a food truck,” he told Yahoo.

“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.’

“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!’”

The Aussie chef hinted at exciting projects in the works.The Aussie chef hinted at exciting projects in the works.

The chef hinted at an exciting project in the works, expected to come to fruition later this year, which he described as an “extension” of the pop-up restaurants he’s hosted in the years since his win.

“There are some exciting things happening this year. I don’t know what I’m allowed to say, but there are heaps of fun things coming which I’m super excited about,” Narayan teased.

“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.”

Narayan said he was “very grateful” for the platform MasterChef gave him, but he was most thankful for the confidence it instilled in his abilities.

“I think the experience genuinely changed me,” he said.

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“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 … that full-on changed me and gave me a little bit more confidence to put it out there and be unapologetic about it.

“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.”

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