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Remembering Jock Zonfrillo: Passionate. Curious. Visionary.

A trip down memory lane with some MasterChef contestants whose lives he touched deeply during their culinary journey.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

 

Jock Zonfrillo, the Scottish-born chef and restaurateur and judge on MasterChef Australia, has left an indelible mark on the culinary scene in Australia. He not only connected with contestants from different cultures but mentored and inspired them. He was well known for his fascination for Indian cuisine and had also planned a trip to India.

 

Winner selfie
Sashi: “Coming from Adelaide, we had a lot in common.” (Source: Supplied)

SASHI CHELIAH Winner Season 10, 2018; Season 14, 2022 (Fans and Favourites)

“I knew Jock Zonfrillo before my MasterChef journey started, as a regular diner at his restaurant. There was no personal connection then, but I enjoyed his creativity, his love for native ingredients and for modern techniques. We then got connected on the show, when he appeared as a guest judge in Season 10. After I won the competition, we met up in Adelaide again. When I opened my restaurant, he was one of the first few chefs who came to show his support. I still remember him sitting down with my head chef and enjoying my eggplant curry and fish curry. He raved about it again when we caught up recently.”

“Filming a few episodes with him during Season 15, we had some wonderful discussions in the green room. He shared his knowledge of food and expertise about the industry, and asked me about my products and about India. He was quite new to the Indian culture and wanted to know more about the culture and cuisine.”

“Being a restaurant owner and from Adelaide, we had a lot in common to talk about.”

“I found him very passionate in whatever he did – be it his lifestyle, MasterChef or personal life. We were like friends, as we shared our experiences, and he would always give his input. I’m still shocked about his death.”

 

Zonfrillo with Todd
Sarah: “He constantly challenged me to explore new techniques, flavours, and ingredients.” (Source: Supplied)

SARAH TODD  Season 6, 2014; Season 14, 2022 (Fans and Favourites)

“My first impression of Jock was that he was a visionary. He was uniquely able to see the untapped potential in our Aboriginal native ingredients in Australia and was determined to showcase their richness and diversity. His passion and innovative approach to cooking were genuinely inspiring. I admired his work ethic and his commitment to elevating our culinary heritage.”

“There was a moment during my culinary journey when I prepared a lobster dish that left a lasting impression on Jock. To my surprise and overwhelming joy, he announced that my creation was three-Michelin-star worthy. It was an incredibly humbling and emotional experience, as his praise validated my hard work and dedication to the craft. I will forever treasure that unforgettable moment. One of the most memorable incidents with Jock was when he took the time to understand my cooking style and creative approach truly. He recognised the unique spot I had carved out in the culinary world and encouraged me to embrace it wholeheartedly. His belief in me and his unwavering support allowed me to embrace my individuality as a chef and gave me the confidence to explore uncharted territories in the kitchen.”

“One invaluable piece of advice I received from Jock Zonfrillo was always to push myself beyond my comfort zone. He constantly challenged me to explore new techniques, flavours, ingredients. Jock emphasised the importance of staying true to my culinary vision and creating dishes that reflected my unique style. His guidance extended beyond cooking and influenced how I approach life – always striving for growth, embracing innovation, and daring to dream big.”

“Jock’s impact on my culinary journey cannot be overstated. He was not only a mentor and a role model but also a true believer in my abilities. His recognition of my cooking style and his unwavering support guided me towards realising my potential. I am forever grateful for his influence, which has shaped me as a chef and individual.”

 

Contestants in kitchen
Kishwar: “He had a genuine love and curiosity for food from different regions.” (Source: Supplied)

KISHWAR CHOWDHURY Season 13, 2021

“I admire the work Jock has done to cultivate Australia’s culinary identity using native indigenous ingredients. I revered him as a chef before knowing he was to be a judge on MasterChef.”

“The very first dish I cooked, Jock said that was the best thing he had eaten that year. There were many dishes on and off camera that Jock would eat at my bench – he had a genuine love and curiosity for food from different regions.”

“There was a lovely day just before the finals when Jock cooked for us three finalists. He said, you’ve cooked so many dishes with so much love all season, today I want to cook something for you. And it’s one of the dishes I’ll always remember.”

“Jock Zonfrillo led by example. He was a no nonsense, pull-your-socks-up leader who extended himself beyond his role as a judge on camera to teacher and mentor off camera. His relentless work as a migrant to this country, in documenting and highlighting Australian native ingredients, led a new generation of cooks like me to embrace this land, and reimagine what “Australian” cuisine can look like without compromising or hiding any part of our identities. Time and time again he reminded me that “Your food belongs here!”.”

 

Depinder Chhibber
Depinder: “He always told me to cook Indian food the way it was supposed to be cooked, not to suit a particular palette.” (Source: Supplied)

DEPINDER CHHIBBER Season 13, 2021

“When I met Jock for the first time, I was scared and fascinated at the same time. Being a French-trained chef, he made me nervous, but throughout the series he was one of the best mentors I could’ve asked for. He was the person to give me my white apron, which meant the world to me! That was basically how my MasterChef Australia journey began. Jock was a big fan of my bento box, which was my take on an Indian tiffin. He absolutely loved it and was an emotional moment for me as I served him food I grew up eating.”

“He gave me the best advice ever during my MasterChef journey. He always told me to cook Indian food the way it was supposed to be cooked, not to change it to suit a particular palette. It was not only reassuring at the time, it also gave me a huge confidence boost.”

 

Adi Nevgi
Adi: “He was a very funny man with a quick wit!”(Source: Supplied)

ADI NEVGI  Season 15, 2023

“When I met Jock Zonfrillo for the first time, honestly, I was a little intimidated! He had so much knowledge and was such a stalwart of the food industry – it was hard not to feel a little awed. But he genuinely wanted all of us contestants to do well, he cared, he wanted to see us succeed in the food industry. He was also a very funny man with a quick wit.”

“When I cooked my first dish on the show, the ramen, he had such nice things to say about it. He was really pleased with how I got flavour in there in a relatively short amount of time, and getting praise from him like that on day one was really affirming.”

“He was also enthused about the butter chicken I made and encouraged me to expand on it – it wasn’t smoky enough, so he made me think about how I could infuse that flavour, which I then managed to with some coal. I didn’t win that challenge because I didn’t cook my rice properly that day, but having him challenge me and then pull it off – I was really pleased.”

“His knowledge of food was inspiring, and his advice always made me improve my dishes. He gave me a really helpful comment about considering bicarb soda in dumpling mixture to loosen the mince. I looked up the science behind it, and how a tiny amount helps loosen the proteins molecules, and it’s changed how I make not only dumplings but meatballs, shish kebab, and so many other dishes.”

 

Neeru Saluja
Neeru Saluja
Neeru Saluja is a freelance films and arts writer with 20 years of experience. Specialising in Bollywood celebrity interviews, she has also covered music concerts, comedy shows, plays and interviewed artists for the Sydney Film festival, the Indian Film festival in Melbourne, WOMADelaide, AACTA and the Asia Pacific Screen Awards.

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