Jock Zonfrillo has well and truly won over the hearts of MasterChef fans all over the country, but life hasn’t always been plain sailing for the 43-year-old Scottish chef.
In fact, at the age of 17, Jock was hooked on heroin, homeless and jobless, after being sacked from a Michelin star restaurant in England.
Fast-forward to today and he’s become one of the most well-known chefs in Australia, with a legion of fans fawning over his every word on the hit Channel 10 reality show and an Adelaide restaurant with a string of awards to its name under his belt.
Jock Zonfrillo’s controversial early years
A drug addict since the age of 15, Jock said he never wanted for anything as a child but he became embroiled in drugs as a teenager while hanging around with the wrong crowd in Scotland in the ‘80s.
After a foul-mouthed rant saw him fired from his job at the age of 17, Jock decided to head straight to the top, knocking on the door of celebrity chef Marco Pierre White’s restaurant at the Hyde Park Hotel in London.
Marco himself answered the door to a flabbergasted Jock, who asked him for a job there on the spot, with the award-winning chef taking a chance on the troubled teenager, giving him a shot in his kitchen.
With no money to his name, Jock used to leave work with the other staff, do a loop of Hyde Park and go back into the restaurant changing rooms and sleep there.
Marco soon discovered what was happening and instead of firing him, got him a bed in a youth hostel, lent him money and let him pay it back out of his wages. Jock told news.com.au recently that if it wasn’t for Marco, he’d be “in a pine box”.
“I'm not proud of it at all," he said of his drug use.
"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."
Jock’s move to Australia
Jock first visited Australia in 1994, landing a job at Chifley Tower’s Forty One restaurant before moving back to London a year later.
However a couple of years later he decided to head back Down Under and he’s never looked back.
On New Year’s Eve in 1999, Jock shot up his last dose of heroin before boarding a plane to Sydney and he’s been clean ever since.
“A lot of my friends from my early days are dead now or in jail,” he told the Financial Times in 2019.
“The thing about being a junkie is that the only way you can get out is if there’s something in your life more compelling than drugs. And for me, I had another addiction: to food and to cooking. That’s what moved me on. That’s how I survived.”
Jock’s career has gone from strength-to-strength in Australia. He worked at Penfolds Wines’ flagship Magill restaurant before opening up his own establishment, Restaurant Orana, in 2013 in Adelaide.
An Indigenous word from the Wiradjuri language meaning ‘welcome’, Orana showcases Indigenous ingredients, with Jock writing on his website it shows ‘just how special the oldest surviving culture in the world is’.
It was named Australian Restaurant of the Year in, 2017, 2018 and 2019 and Jock won the highly prestigious Basque Culinary World Prize in 2018.
Jock is also the Founder of The Orana Foundation, a charity established in 2016 to preserve the rich food culture of the First Australians.
Jock’s personal life
Along with his highs came the lows and Jock’s obsession with food had a huge impact on his personal life, leading to heartbreak.
"Two divorces, a handful of friends because you don't have the time to spend with them, so therefore you can count your close friends on one hand, and a deep mistrust of most people," he told the Adelaide Advertiser in 2014.
"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.''
In 2017, Jock married Lauren, with the pair welcoming a baby boy, Alfie, into the world a short time later. Lauren is now pregnant with the couple’s second child.
Jock has two daughters from his two previous marriages and revealed last week that he was ‘utterly miserable’ during filming of MasterChef, as he was away from his loved ones.
Jock explained on WSFM 101.7 Jonesy & Amanda show that during the early stages of coronavirus they were unsure of how bad it was going to get and had no idea how it would affect Lauren’s pregnancy
They decided that it was best if Lauren went back to Adelaide with their two-year-old son and his 19-year-old daughter Ava, so they could isolate safely.
“It seemed like the safest thing to do but I was utterly miserable on my own for six weeks, it was awful,” Jock said.
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