Owner of Decatur’s Tava Indian Bistro to compete on ‘MasterChef’

When Farhan Momin was seven years old, he'd play assistant to mom in the kitchen, given the responsibility of cutting up fresh vegetables — with a kid-friendly knife, of course. Now the 25-year-old Duluth native, a dental student, is in the running to be the next "MasterChef."

“I still can’t believe it,” Momin told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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He'll be appearing Wednesday, June 6, on the second episode of "MasterChef's" ninth season, which premieres at 8 p.m. on FOX. Atlanta native Camerron Dangerfield and local resident Lindsay Haigh will also make their "MasterChef" debuts this season.

For the first time in the show’s history, celebrity judges Joe Bastianich, Gordon Ramsay and Aaron Sanchez will each be handing out eight aprons to castmates to mentor throughout the competition, part of the first-ever “Judges Do Battle” airing June 6.

During last week’s two-hour premiere, the home cooks battled it out for a spot in the top 24. This season, Momin, along with the other 40 contestants, will be competing for the $250,000 grand prize and the legendary title of MasterChef.

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When asked what he’d do with the prize money, Momin said he’ll probably be donating most of the cash to his parents’ retirement fund to thank them for their lifelong support.

“I want them to go enjoy their lives,” he said of his parents, who immigrated from India to the United States in hopes of establishing a brighter future for their children. “It’s the least I can do.”

But even if he doesn’t win big, Momin said the opportunity to chase his passion and cook for some of his culinary idols has been spectacular and humbling.

“I want anyone who feels trapped between having to choose to be a successful professional or chasing your creative dreams to know you can do both and be successful at both,” the fourth-year Midwestern University dental student and Emory University alum said. “You just have be willing to do the hard work.”

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As the child of Indian-American immigrants, Momin watched his parents and older siblings stay busy, often working for the family restaurant business. That taught him to be self-sufficient at a young age, he said.

What started with a sweet desire to help his mom out with dinner after a long day at work quickly turned into an exciting (and tasty) hobby.

Instead of watching cartoons, Momin was soon glued to the Food Network and Cooking Channel, curious about the science behind the recipes. Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” was a favorite of his.

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At North Paulding High School, Momin experimented with molecular gastronomy as executive chef for a team project, part of the school’s culinary arts program. The culinary class, he said, helped serve his creative process with food.

“Growing up in rural Georgia, all my friends were predominantly American,” Momin said. “They didn’t really understand Indian food.”

So, he thought to himself, “How do I make Indian food relatable?” Since then, Momin focused on using familiar food concepts, such as a sloppy joe sandwich or a pizza, and then adding a flavorful twist for a tasty culture shock.

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He calls his nihari sandwich, which features the popular north Indian and Pakistani stew between buttered buns, the “Indian version of a sloppy joe or pulled pork sandwich.” The portability and familiarity make the entree more approachable to people who may feel intimidated by Indian cuisine.

The contemporary dish, along with Momin's other signature dishes, such as the butter chicken pizza, can be found on the menu of his family's Decatur restaurant, Tava Indian Bistro.

Recently, while promoting his blog "Farmo Cooks," Momin held two sold-out pop-up events where he took familiar Italian concepts (think classic tortellini pasta) and gave the dish a kick of smokiness manufactured with a popular Indian smoking technique called "Dhungar." The final dish, which included seekh kebab, looked Italian on display, but one bite delivered a flavorful Indian surprise.

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But not all of his attempts at fusion food have been successful. One of the first meals he ever cooked, which he put together while fasting for Ramadan for the first time, was a total disaster.

It was an over-fried chicken sandwich overcome with spices and crumbling breading.

“But I had starved all day,” Momin said. “So I was still proud of what I put together.”

Ironically, that once-disastrous entree has evolved into the new chicken sandwich Momin will be presenting to “MasterChef” judges this season.

Catch Momin on the second episode of "MasterChef" airing Wednesday, June 6.