Part Two of SanDiegoVille's 4-Part Series: An Interview with San Diego MasterChef Contestant Natasha Crnjac

Photo by Greg Gayne/Fox
Copyright 2013 Fox Broadcasting

June 23, 2013

Continuing our 4 Part Interview series with Fox's MasterChef finalists from San Diego, today we find out what fuels stay-at-home-mom, Natasha Crnjac, who has been a force to be reckoned with as she competes for the title of MasterChef on Season 4 of Fox's hit cooking competition.

What do you believe San Diego's greatest asset/contribution to the culinary world to be? 

I believe that San Diego has not even hit the mark yet on how much it’s about to explode, It’s just a growing city with amazing restaurants already and people now finding out that it’s a great destination for business and endeavors. We are lucky to have some of the most amazing farms around that supply restaurants and farmers markets with the best quality, as well as the climate to make anyone happy.

Natasha Crnjac on MasterChef
Photo by Greg Gayne/Fox
Copyright 2013 Fox Broadcasting
What are your three favorite places to dine in San Diego, and what dishes are not to miss?

Quite honestly, I don’t eat out very much - it’s just a way I was raised at home. I learned to cook at an early age with my father in the kitchen and it’s pretty much stuck with me. However when I do, it’s an absolute treat to go out and some of my favorite places include 1500 Ocean in Coronado. It’s a perfect combination of farm-to-fork infused with the beauty of seafood all in one seating.  Not to mention with the most amazing, romantic view of the Pacific while the sun is setting - it’s spectacular. My next place would have to be an amazing place called Saffron Restaurant.  I remember when I was pregnant with my son, it’s all I ever craved!  It’s honestly a combination of beautiful flavors and some serious love put into the dishes. I can honestly say I’ve never been disappointed with anything from them. Lastly, Hane Sushi - it’s not just the food that makes this place. The atmosphere is amazing, the staff is friendly, and the specials are always amazing! I love going in and trying one of the new specials the Chefs have thought up!

What is your favorite San Diego neighborhood and why?

I absolute love the community of Bird Rock in La Jolla.  It’s perfectly nestled in between PB and  downtown La Jolla. No matter what you’re looking to do, you’re down the street from some of the best taco places in Pacific Beach to some of the most posh dining restaurants in La Jolla,  just the comfortable and laid back atmosphere of Beaumont's.  You can find a nice little nook down by the quiet beach at Wind N Sea, or cruise on your bike and just enjoy the scenery.

You said your favorite cuisine type is Asian fusion.  Where in San Diego impresses in this genre?

Gang Kitchen has an amazing space as well as serves up some wonderful food. Totally a happy hour place, or to grab a drink with friends and hang out and eat some tasty food!  I’m very sad to say, Burlap impressed me the most... Once one of my favorite place has just closed down. It’s a shame because Anthony Sinsay did an amazing job with the place, now to be turned into Searsucker.

Where is yours and your husband's favorite 'date night' spot in San Diego?

Our favorite “date night” spot in San Diego would be JRDN at Tower23, It’s just such a fun place to go for hours and drink, watching the people cruise by on the boardwalk and the sunset go down, all while we keep ordering the tasting plates and nibble here and there and then finish off with our entrees and a special dessert! It’s just a wonderful place and holds a special place in both of our hearts!

If you were given the opportunity to open a restaurant in San Diego, what kind of food would you serve and in what neighborhood would you open it?

If given the opportunity to open up a restaurant in San Diego I would really love to be ideally close to the beach and have it in north Pacific Beach/ La Jolla Area. My whole concept is to know what you’re eating, where it’s coming from and know that it’s made fresh for you everyday.  Living in Southern California, we are very fortunate to have the most amazing produce year round and that’s something I want to take advantage of. My food wouldn’t be a specific genre, I want to introduce flavors to people’s palates that they have never experienced and really take them on a culinary adventure while all taking place in the most comfortable atmosphere that is inviting, intriguing and indulging.

Let us in on your favorite recipe. 

My favorite recipe, is the one that is more comforting to me and my family and I think a lot of families! It’s homemade pizza with whatever toppings you please. I remember as a little girl I was so excited when we had pizza night because we could all pick the toppings we wanted and my dad would just make endless pizza’s.( I mean it)  I would help cut up the onions and the ham and lay out the prosciutto. 

By Weight  
500gr 00 flour
,  325gr water (65% hydration), 
10gr salt
, 3gr active dry yeast
We highly recommend cooking by weight. It is fast, and easy to get the exact hydration (water to flour ratio) and dough ball size you want. Personally, I do not use recipes or a mixing cup when I cook dinner for the family, but pizza and bread dough is different. Being exact counts, and nothing works better than a digital scale.

Mix the dough in a stand mixer, by hand or in a bread machine. If you are using a stand mixer, mix it slowly for two minutes, faster for 5 minutes, and slow again for 2 minutes.

Cover the dough and let it rise for 1 1/2 - 2 hours, or until double. Punch it down and push out the air bubbles. Form the dough into a large ball, then cut it into three 275gr equal pieces.

To make your pizza balls, shape each piece of dough into a ball. Gently roll your dough into a ball, then stretch the top of the ball down and around the rest of the ball, until the outer layer wraps around the other side. Pinch the two ends together to make a smooth ball with a tight outer "skin." Set your ball seam-side down where it can rest. Dust your pizza balls with flour, and store them under a damp towel, in a proofing tray, or under plastic wrap. This will prevent the outside of the ball from drying out and creating a crust, and becoming difficult to work with. The top of the pizza ball should be soft and silky.
Your pizza balls will need to rest for about an hour to become soft and elastic, so that they can be easily stretched into a thin crust pizza.

If you won't need your dough for more than an hour, refrigerate it until you are ready to start.

If you won't have an hour to let your dough rest. By cutting back each phase of dough preparation by the right amount, you can make great pizza or focaccia dough in as little as an hour.

We thank MasterChef contestant, Natasha Crnjac, for her time and appreciate her insight.  Best of luck on becoming the next MasterChef!!!

Part 3 with MasterChef frontrunner Lynn Chyi!