”I’m thankful for all the people who helped me at the right moments.”
May 01, 2023 3:55pm
TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses mental health, addiction, and drug use. If you or someone you know has been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, help is always available. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
MasterChef Australia fans fell in love with the show’s suave, handsome Scottish judge Jock Zonfrillo when he joined the show in 2019. But while the restauranteur enjoyed a wonderful career renaissance, life wasn’t always smooth-sailing for the chef.
He sadly battled with drug addiction, homelessness, unemployment and chaos in his personal life.
Fired from his job at a Michelin Star restaurant in Chester, England, when he was just a teenager, Jock made his way to London and found himself in front of MasterChef star Marco Pierre White looking for a job.
Jock didn’t know what Marco saw in him, but he took a chance and gave him a job at his world-famous Hyde Park Hotel.
“I’ve always said, ‘If it wasn’t for food, I would’ve died.’ When you’re an addict, there’s very little that’s more compelling than doing that drug. Luckily for me, I somehow fluked upon cooking,” Jock previously said.
Despite the dream job, Jock revealed that he was broke and homeless at the time and forced to sleep in the restaurant changing rooms, where he was caught out by Marco.
“Marco was aware of my situation and the battles I had personally, but he had the ability to put that aside and take you at face value as a chef, and I couldn’t be more thankful.”
While he was embarrassed about this time in his life, he’s became refreshingly open about his experiences later in his life.
“It’s embarrassing and it’s embarrassing for my parents. But I’m thankful to have been able to come through the other side of that and I’m thankful for all the people who helped me at the right moments.”
When Jock first moved to Sydney, he decided to turn over a new leaf and quit his drug habit. He shot up his last dose of heroin at Heathrow Airport in 1999 and never touched it again.
He spent a huge amount of time in local Indigenous communities, learning about native ingredients, which informed much of his cooking throughout his career.
He worked at Sydney restaurant Forty One, then at Penfolds Magill Estate, before starting up Restaurant Orana (which means welcome) in Adelaide in 2013.
At first, it was a financial disaster. The business lost $700,000 in its first year and Jock had his giant debt spread across 23 credit cards but after several years of hard work, the business started to break even.
In 2017, 2018 and 2019, Restaurant Orana which he owned was named Restaurant of the Year. Jock was named Australia’s Hottest Chef by The Australian in 2018 and that same year he also won the prestigious Basque Culinary World Prize.
However when the COVID pandemic hit, Restaurant Orana was forced to shut its doors, though Jock hinted on Instagram that this wasn’t the end of his cooking career.
“My journey doesn’t stop here. I’ll continue trying to make a difference through food projects outside of the restaurant. And while these may be uncertain times they need to be a time of understanding, tolerance, and positivity for our industry and I’ll do whatever I can to help.”
WATCH BELOW: Poh returns to MasterChef in 2020 as a contestant. Story continues after video.
He got married to the love of his life
Jock was the first to admit that his previous drug use, combined with the antisocial hours and hospitality industry’s intense culture, had a significant impact on his personal relationships.
“That’s what you’re left with at the end of the day. Is it really that glamorous after all? I don’t think so.”
“I just can’t imagine a life without you & I’m so grateful to share a life with such an epic woman, leader, business women & mamma. I’m a better man, a prouder father and I hope a better husband,” he previously said.
Jock was also a proud dad of four – he and Lauren share son Alfie and daughter Isla and the MasterChef judge also has two daughters, Ava and Sophia, from his first two marriages.
“I was used to working every single Christmas, birthday, anniversary, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, New Year’s Eve. As hospitality workers, we allow everyone else to celebrate those days, and as a consequence, we miss out on those celebrations. We miss out on sports days and stuff like that.”
Jock added: “And I think this time around with kids, because I haven’t been in a kitchen and I’ve been on MasterChef, I’ve had nights off, and I’ve had weekends off. And so my mental health is greatly improved, and I’ve been able to enjoy being a father in a different way this time around.
“It’s been brilliant, but it’s also allowed me to identify and be able to talk about mental health as a father in a very different way. It has been really, really good.”