As the scores were tallied up, Justin told 10 play the moment was overwhelming for several reasons.
“I was overwhelmed by the amount of math I had to do in that moment,” he joked. “I thought the pressure test was over and now I have to add up all these scores to figure out what’s happening?
“It was so crazy, I wasn’t ready for it at all,” he added, “Pete and Kishwar are just unbelievable cooks, they deserved to win. I wish we could have split it… everyone could be a winner, that’d be fun.”
The self-described underdog of the season was just three points behind frontrunner Pete after the grand finale’s first two rounds. Heading into the third and final round, Justin, Pete and Kishwar had to face a massive pressure test.
Welcoming the king of finale challenges, Peter Gilmore, back into the kitchen, the Executive Chef of Bennelong and Quay revealed not one but two dishes the finalists would have to recreate, his Squid Noodles and his Golden Crackle.
“As soon as Peter Gilmore walked into the kitchen, it’s just this feeling of dread,” Justin said, laughing.
Thinking back to the iconic pressure tests Peter has set in the past, Justin said his first thought was to just walk out of the kitchen then and there.
“But I composed myself and was like get it together, you’ve got one cook. Make it your best one and let’s finish strong,” Justin said.
Finishing strong is exactly what he did, plating up two nearly identical versions of Peter’s dishes, unfazed by the pressure of the monumental tasks ahead of him. Approaching the final pressure test like any other challenge in the kitchen, Justin said he simply took each step one at a time, chipping away at the recipes and making small progress without getting overwhelmed.
“If you look at that whole recipe at once it’s daunting, still to this day, but when you’re in the moment — I just needed to focus on right now, that was my mentality. I needed to do what was in front of me and do it well.”
In the early stages of the competition, Justin was consistently performing in the middle of the pack until a stern word from the judges shook him out of complacency.
“There was a moment where Jock told me he was disappointed in me,” Justin remembered. “He just didn’t think I was putting in enough study. At the start of the competition when they gave me an apron, I told them I’d work hard and do it justice and I just felt like I let them down a little bit.
“Honestly I was a little bit gutted because I was putting in the work and I was studying, but it just wasn’t translating to the plate. That was the moment where it all switched for me and I was decided I was going to prove it to them.
“I wanted to make sure I didn’t waste this moment.”
From that point on, Justin began to push himself in the competition, plating up a handful of memorable dishes and receiving ‘Michelin star’ worthy praise. Finessing technique and his handling of flavour, Justin said his Australian Curry from Monday night was the “pinnacle” of his time in the MasterChef kitchen.
Echoing the very first dish he cooked in the competition, and using his newfound love of Australian native ingredients, perfectly balanced flavours, Justin was happy to not just share the dish with the judges but also his family who were watching on the gantry.
His father had been battling with his health, and having him walk into the kitchen to witness the final chapter of Justin’s MasterChef journey was the icing on the cake.
“I wasn’t ready for that level of emotion,” Justin admitted, “and I guess that’s what also made me take the competition a little more seriously… Dad’s fighting for his life and I was going to make sure I didn’t waste this.
“It gave me that extra bit of motivation and an extra little bit of determination to focus on what I needed to do and, for him be in the room and see me do something I love the best I could do it, to achieve that was really special.”
Since winning the title of MasterChef, Justin got married and went on his honeymoon — capping off a life-changing few months.
“I am so fortunate, very blessed, for all those things,” he said. “Genuinely the best year of my life, I can easily say that.”
Follow Justin on Instagram @justinnarayan
Catch up on Justin’s MasterChef Australia journey. Every episode is available on demand on 10 play