opinion

Jock Zonfrillo, and the permission to grieve someone you never knew.

"No!" gasped my eldest daughter in shock, as she looked down at her phone. Her voice echoed with raw emotion and I knew immediately something bad had happened.

She ran to me, with trembling hands, devastation etched across her pale face.

"Jock has died, Mum."

She flung her phone at me and buried her face in her hands. I didn’t need to ask her for more details about who she meant. I knew. The only Jock we know in our household is our favourite Masterchef host, Jock Zonfrillo

"Tell me it’s not true," she pleaded.

My eyes darted frantically across the words on the MasterChef Instagram post, my brain struggling to keep up with the sudden, devastating news. I fumbled for my phone and opened up a news site, hoping that it wasn't true. But there it was, confirmed in black and white: Jock Zonfrillo had indeed passed away.

Watch: Jock Zonfrillo on MasterChef Australia. Post continues after video.


Video via Ten.

My heart sank, as I confirmed the sad news to my daughter. 

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Just hours earlier my daughters, aged 14 and 12, had planned a MasterChef viewing party. We had the snacks ready to go, enthusiasm in spades and the countdown was on. It’s always a very long time between the end of one MasterChef season and the beginning of a new one.

Excitement was high in our household!

You see, like thousands of families across Australia (and perhaps you, if you’re reading this) we welcomed Jock Zonfrillo into our home with great gusto in 2019.

I have watched MasterChef since its inception and though I had a fondness for the original judges, their successors were a cut above. Mel, Andy and the impossibly charming Scot, 'Jock.' He was irresistible.

Each of them brought something special to the screen, and together they were dynamite, but it was Jock who had ingredients of humanity that we quickly admired.

He was kind and fair, witty and charming, passionate and vulnerable, and a great entertainer. But not in the TV celebrity kind of way. He struck as the real deal, no fuss, no fanfare, but plenty of fervour and a genuine connection with each and every guest and contestant on the show.

We loved him immediately. He was quick with a grin and a cheeky joke, and not a hint of arrogance about him. Jock cared so deeply about the contestants and their aspirations, and my girls saw him as a great role model.

Food is emotionally powerful, and MasterChef was a comfort on a plate during the pandemic. It helped our family through Melbourne’s lengthy lockdowns, which the judges handled with sensitivity and hope. It was the balm we all needed; a therapeutic distraction.

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The news of his passing has plunged so many into mourning. I have been reading the tributes and outpouring of grief from his peers and colleagues in the food and TV industry. They are naturally heartbroken.

I never met Jock personally, but I am mourning his loss in a profound way. It’s both confusing and remarkable to grieve for someone you’ve never met. In one way I feel I am not really entitled to grieve for him, as shouldn’t true grief be reserved for family, friends and loved ones?

My 14-year-old has asked me if it’s okay that she’s grieving someone who she didn’t even know. And I am offering her comfort and reassurance that it is indeed okay. And also because she sort of did know him. 

As avid fans of MasterChef, we welcomed him into our homes, connecting with him in a strangely familiar and beautiful way. Such was his warmth, charisma and humanity that beamed into the living rooms of fans across Australia and the world.

Psychologist Sabina Read explains it this way: "Vicarious grief is the notion of feeling a loss for someone we never knew. And these feelings are valid."

"Although it can be overwhelming or confusing, it's also a beautiful reflection of empathy and compassion for humanity, and the universal ties that bind us," she says.

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In other words, even if we never met Jock, his death will likely evoke questions in us as both adults and children, not only about him but about us too. "Grief is both profoundly personal and equally ubiquitous," explains Read.

Outside of the MasterChef kitchen, I followed Jock’s adventures. I listened to him on podcasts (Mia’s No Filter episode was particularly insightful) and read his words (his raw and honest memoir was further evidence of his great character) and celebrated his family life (in the way that one can as a fan) and I loved him that bit more every time he wore a kilt.

Listen to No Filter where Mia reflects on her friendship with Jock, his warmth and the legacy he leaves behind. Post continues after podcast.


And so I feel sad, really sad. My daughters are sad too. I know we can’t be alone.

It is a strange thing to grieve for someone whom you don't personally know. And it can be hard to navigate. You are disconnected in a way (and rightly so; we have no right to intrude on the private grief of loved ones). 

But when you don’t know someone, it’s hard to share the grief in a tangible way. And so I have felt at somewhat of a loss.

I have found some comfort in commenting on public posts and offering my condolences. I’ve reached out to people I know who, like me, never met him, but are feeling a sense of loss too. 

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If you're feeling Jock's loss, it's likely a sign that you're a feeling and loving human who cares about people you love and know and those you don't," explains Read. "And in our complex and ever-changing world, we probably need more people just like this."

Of course, my heart is heaviest for his wife and children. Their grief is unimaginable and I can only hope they feel comforted by the loving tributes that are pouring in.

It is clear Jock had an enormous impact. He had a huge heart. Apparently, he had a huge appetite too (in darkness we must share the light). But it seems to me that his true hunger was for deep and thoughtful interactions with people from all walks of life. By all accounts, he had an insatiable curiosity as well as the wonderful ability to make people smile. 

Thank you, Jock. On behalf of my daughters, and on behalf of your many fans, thank you.

And in the words of his co-host and friend, Andy Allen...

"Give it up for Jock Zonfrillo."

Michaela Fox is a freelance writer, mother of four daughters and Founder of Girls Thriving.

Feature Image: Ten Network/Mamamia.

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