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"I was completely f**ked up." How Jock Zonfrillo went from rock bottom to Australia's favourite chef.

MasterChef judge Jock Zonfrillo grew up in Glasgow in the 1980s, falling into a life of drug addiction, homelessness, and poverty, before working his way up in the food industry.

He credits Marco Pierre White for saving his life, after the chef gave him a job at the age of 17.

It turns out he was pretty good at this whole cooking thing, and is now a decorated chef, TV presenter, and philanthropist, who we (Australia), get to call our own.

WATCH: Jock on Masterchef. Post continues after video.


Video by Ten

At just 11 years old, Jock had already fallen in love with kitchens, and he worked as a dishwasher part-time after school during his early teen years.

But when he was 15, Jock tried drugs for the first time, and within two years he was a heroin addict.

As he told News.com.au, he was sacked from his job at one Michelin star restaurant in Chester, England,  after a foul mouthed outburst when he was 17, and was left broke, homeless and strung out.

That’s where Pierre White stepped in.

After turning up to his London kitchen begging for work, the highly accoladed chef decided to give him a chance.

Marco Pierre White
Chef Marco Pierre White saved Jock's life. Image: Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty.
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"He saw something of me in him or him in me. But I went there completely naked. Stripped of everything. I was both a drug addict and I had no expectations of my abilities as a cook. I was lost. I mean, really, completely, f---ed up," Jock told GoodFood in 2018.

In fact, if it wasn't for food, Jock says he would be dead.

"The only thing that will stop you from doing heroin is something that's more compelling than heroin. And 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," he told the publication.

For the first few months of working in Pierre White's kitchen, Jock had nowhere to sleep and would sneak into the staff change rooms once everyone had left and sleep under the towels. He was too embarrassed to say anything.

As he told The Advertiser, "He [Pierre White] arranged a youth hostel for me to stay in and lent me money that was to be paid back out of my wages. That sums up Marco – generous beyond measure".

Jock didn't kick his drug addiction until he moved to Australia in 1999 with his first wife.

As he told GoodFood, he shot heroin at Heathrow Airport before he left and that was it, he never touched it again.

In Sydney, he found his driving force – bush tucker. He met a busker called Jimmy in Circular Quay, who he had a four-hour conversation with about native food, and that was the conversation that changed his direction as a chef.

He went on to spend months with Aboriginal communities, researching the food, and aiming to understand the culture of what he calls the "most misunderstood race of people I have ever come across".

 




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He told Adelaide Now it took him seven trips to one community in the Kimberley before they would even speak to him.

It took even longer to get people interested in his plight. He worked at Forty One, in Sydney, and then at Penfolds Magill Estate – where he put native food on the menu as much as possible. The winemaker gave him two years and a bunch of cash to bring his mad pursuit of an Australian cuisine to life, until a still mysterious last-minute change of heart from the wine executives brought it to a crashing halt.

He and Penfolds parted ways, and a once again un-attached Jock started Restaurant Orana (meaning 'welcome') in Adelaide in 2013.

According to the Financial Times, the business lost $700,000 in the first year and at one point Jock had 23 credit cards on the go to manage the expenses. Eventually, after a few years he broke even.

In 2017, 2018, and 2019, Restaurant Orana was named Restaurant of the Year. The Orana Foundation, which was started in 2016, remains one of Jock's main aims, it works to preserve the cooking techniques and ingredients of First Australians.

Now, Jock's one of the new judges on Australia's MasterChef and Junior MasterChef, alongside Melissa Leong and Andy Allen.

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Jock's career success, however, came at the cost of his personal life. In 2014, he told The Advertiser his risk-taking nature "cost him two marriages".

The Financial Review reports he has a daughter to each of his first two wives.

 




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Now 43, Jock is married to businesswoman Lauren Fried, who is pregnant with their second child. They've already got Alfie, who is almost two-years-old.

The pair got married in 2017 and Jock shares romantic quips about his wife on his Instagram, who his staff told the Financial Times is responsible for "taming the beast".

"Words can’t describe... in fact... there are no words that could ever be enough," he wrote on their two year anniversary.

 




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2 years ago today. Words can’t describe.... in fact... there are no words that could ever be enough. ♥️♥️♥️

A post shared by  Jock Zonfrillo (@zonfrillo) on

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With coronavirus shutting down the country's hospitality industry, Jock is currently dealing with that, while debuting on MasterChef.

He's shut up Orana for the foreseeable future, and has left his wife and children behind in Adelaide while he films in Melbourne.

"My wife’s pregnant so we made the decision to keep her in Adelaide with the kids and that way there was no risk," he told Hit FM.

 




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In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Jock admitted he was "fairly wound up" with anxiety before the show went to air, but the pressure is off now they're up and running.

He's already emerging as the season's ultimate crush, which the chef finds highly embarrassing.

"I find it embarrassing. It’s very flattering... but I’m Captain Awkward," he told the Telegraph.

Feature Image: Channel 10.

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