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MasterChef host Jock Zonfrillo struggled with heroin addiction

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Hellraiser MasterChef Australia star Jock Zonfrillo’s extraordinary culinary life began aged 13 as a dishwasher at Turnberry in his native Scotland and ended in tragedy as one of the biggest names in Australian cooking.

The Glasgow-born father-of-four left school at 15 and credited his mentor Marco Pierre White with saving his life after giving him a job and accommodation when he was a homeless heroin addict in London in the 1990s.

He became a MasterChef judge in 2019 alongside Andy Allen and Melissa Leong, and also Junior MasterChef Australia in 2020 – 20 years after landing Down Under seeking a fresh start. He injected his last hit of heroin immediately before boarding the plane from the UK and was in the throes of withdrawal by the time he touched down.

Jock, who was found dead in Melbourne this morning aged just 46, said his life could be compared to Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting before cookery saved him, claiming that most of his friends back home in Scotland were ‘dead or in jail’.

The chef became a huge star Down Under after a life and career of extraordinary ups and downs. He was declared bankrupt in 2007, five years after setting a trainee chef on fire for working too slowly. His victim Martin Krammer sued but claims he never saw his $75,000 compensation.

But by 2017 Zonfrillo was the hottest chef in Australia, with his restaurant Orana winning awards across the world. But Orana closed in 2020 with debts of millions of Australian dollars. His 2021 bestselling memoirs Last Shot was criticised, including his mentor Marco Pierre White, who said: ‘Almost everything he has written about me is untrue’. 

He famously carried worry beads to help him cope with stress and anxiety, using them while filming MasterChef and later launching his own range at up to $500 a set.

Zonfrillo first took up a job in a kitchen aged 12. By 2017, he was the hottest chef in Australia, with his restaurant Orana winning awards across the world

Zonfrillo first took up a job in a kitchen aged 12. By 2017, he was the hottest chef in Australia, with his restaurant Orana winning awards across the world

He once described his battle with heroin as being like a scene from the famous Scottish dug movie Trainspotting, and said most of his friends from that time were 'dead or in jail'

He once described his battle with heroin as being like a scene from the famous Scottish dug movie Trainspotting, and said most of his friends from that time were ‘dead or in jail’

Zonfrillo is survived by his third wife, Lauren Fried, and his four children: teenage daughters Ava and Sophia, from his first two marriages, and six-year-old Alfie and two-year-old Isla, with Fried. (Zonfrillo, Fried and their two children are seen here in a recent family photo)

Zonfrillo is survived by his third wife, Lauren Fried, and his four children: Ava and Sophia, from his first two marriages, and Alfie and Isla, with Fried. (Zonfrillo, Fried and their two children are seen here in a recent family photo)

Jock with his mentor Marco Pierre White. In 2021 he wrote his memoirs, which mentioned Marco 157 times. Pierre White later claimed: 'I never saw much of [Zonfrillo], and he worked in my kitchen for a very short time'

Jock with his mentor Marco Pierre White. In 2021 he wrote his memoirs, which mentioned Marco 157 times. Pierre White later claimed: ‘I never saw much of [Zonfrillo], and he worked in my kitchen for a very short time’

Gordon Ramsay, Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver led the tributes today

Gordon Ramsay, Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver led the tributes today

Zonfrillo said he stood by every word of his book, amid questions about his accuracy about his past, including his claims of having visited ‘hundreds of Indigenous communities’ in Australia.

The 46-year-year certainly packed plenty into his life. He claimed he lost his virginity poolside in Yugoslavia aged 12, to an older French woman. He would marry three times.

The Glasgow-born chef enjoyed living far from the comfort zone.  Describing his life he said: ‘I always have. Cram it into your mouth, snort it up your nose, bang it into your vein; if it doesn’t kill you, you never know: it might make your life more interesting.’ 

Jock is survived by his third wife, Lauren Fried, and his four children: Ava and Sophia, from his first two marriages, and Alfie and Isla, with Ms Fried. 

His death comes as MasterChef’s fifteenth season, featuring Jamie Oliver as a guest judge, was due to premiere in Australia on Monday night. The show will not be airing this week in light of Zonfrillo’s passing. 

Jamie shared a photo of them together and said: ‘In total shock to hear of the sudden death of chef Jock Zonfrillo. Had the best time working with him for this year’s MasterChef Australia. Jock was very generous with his time and spirit in the show and will be so very missed. Sending heart felt love and condolences to all of his family, friends and the MasterChef team and contestants’.

Gordan Ramsay tweeted today: ‘Saddened by the devastating news of Jock Zonfrillo’s passing. I truly enjoyed the time we spent together on MasterChef in Australia. Sending all my love to Lauren and the family in this difficult time Gx’.

Jock Zonfrillo with Katy Perry on MasterChef Australia

Jock Zonfrillo with Katy Perry on MasterChef Australia

Gordon Ramsay also appeared on the TV hit with fellow Scot, Jock

Gordon Ramsay also appeared on the TV hit with fellow Scot, Jock

He famously carried worry beads to help him cope with stress and anxiety, later launching his own range at up to $500 a set

He famously carried worry beads to help him cope with stress and anxiety, later launching his own range at up to $500 a set

No cause of death has been disclosed, but police say his death is not being treated as suspicious.

A Victoria Police spokesperson told Daily Mail Australia they found Zonfrillo’s body at about 2am on Monday, after they were called to an address on Lygon Street in Carlton for a welfare check. A report will be prepared for the coroner.

His family then announced his death.

They said in a statement: ‘With completely shattered hearts and without knowing how we can possibly move through life without him, we are devastated to share that Jock passed away yesterday’.

‘So many words can describe him, so many stories can be told, but at this time we’re too overwhelmed to put them into words.

‘For those who crossed his path, became his mate, or were lucky enough to be his family, keep this proud Scot in your hearts when you have your next whisky.’

They continued: ‘We implore you to please let us grieve privately as we find a way to navigate through this, and find space on the other side to celebrate our irreplaceable husband, father, brother, son and friend.’

The chef, who was born in Glasgow, started working in kitchen aged 13 and later battled heroin addiction and crippling anxiety, trained under Marco Pierre White and moved to Australia in 2000. He famously carried worry beads to help him cope with ‘stress’.

Zonfrillo opened up to Daily Mail Australia in 2021 about his battle with anxiety, revealing he carries worry beads with him at all times to keep him calm.

‘I don’t classify myself as having a super crippling anxiety but it’s certainly there. It’s challenging and it’s tough,’ he said. 

‘For me, if you have any kind of difficulty or mental health – you’re embarrassed or ashamed, it makes you feel vulnerable. But I think at the end of the day, for me the worry beads were calming. It eases my mind.’ 

One moment he did come to regret took place in 2002, when he set fire to an 18-year-old apprentice during a heated moment in the kitchen.

He took ‘full responsibility’ for the incident, but insisted it was a practical joke gone awry. He dabbed a flammable gel used for keeping plates warm into the teenager’s lap, setting his pants on fire. In an attempt to rip them off, he suffered extensive burns to his hand. He was unable to work for three-and-a-half months, the apprentice said.

‘There was no malicious intent to deliberately set the poor lad on fire,’ he said. 

The teenager, Martin Krammer, sued and Zonfrillo was ordered to pay $75,000 in damages. Zonfrillo later declared bankruptcy and Krammer said he was ‘never paid a cent’. 

Zonfrillo insisted he turned things around having ‘replaced heroin with the insatiable need for success’. 

MasterChef Australia judge Jock Zonfrillo died in Melbourne at the age of 46, his family has confirmed. A Victoria Police spokesperson told Daily Mail Australia they found Zonfrillo's body at about 2am on Monday after they were called to a hotel on Lygon Street in Carlton for a welfare check

MasterChef Australia judge Jock Zonfrillo died in Melbourne on Sunday at the age of 46, his family has confirmed 

He arrived in Australia seeking a fresh start in January 2000. He injected his last hit of heroin immediately before boarding the plane, and was in the throes of withdrawal by the time he landed

He arrived in Australia seeking a fresh start in January 2000. He injected his last hit of heroin immediately before boarding the plane, and was in the throes of withdrawal by the time he landed

From setting an apprentice on fire to losing his virginity poolside in Yugoslavia aged 12 and defeating a crippling heroin addiction he developed on the streets of Glasgow, Jock Zonfrillo lived life as far from his 'comfort zone' as humanly possible

From setting an apprentice on fire to losing his virginity poolside in Yugoslavia aged 12 and defeating a crippling heroin addiction he developed on the streets of Glasgow, Jock Zonfrillo lived life as far from his ‘comfort zone’ as humanly possible

Zonfrillo (left), Melissa Leong and Andy Allen shared the 2021 AACTA award for Best Reality Program for their work together on Masterchef

Zonfrillo (left), Melissa Leong and Andy Allen shared the 2021 AACTA award for Best Reality Program for their work together on Masterchef

MasterChef Australia judge Jock Zonfrillo died in Melbourne on Sunday at the age of 46, his family has confirmed

MasterChef Australia judge Jock Zonfrillo died in Melbourne on Sunday at the age of 46, his family has confirmed

His death comes as MasterChef's fifteenth season was due to premiere on Monday. The show will not be airing this week in light of Zonfrillo's passing. (Pictured: Zonfrillo with fellow MasterChef judges Andy Allen and Melissa Leong at the AACTA Awards on December 7)

His death comes as MasterChef’s fifteenth season was due to premiere on Monday. The show will not be airing this week in light of Zonfrillo’s passing. (Pictured: Zonfrillo with fellow MasterChef judges Andy Allen and Melissa Leong at the AACTA Awards on December 7)

About as far away from his former home in Scotland as humanly possible, Zonfrillo hit the ground running and in 20 years became one of Australia’s most formidable chefs.

In the early days, he managed to keep details of his addiction under wraps, but it emerged in the press.

In his memoir, Last Shot, Zonfrillo shared never-before-heard details of his life story, including a memorable trip to Yugoslavia when he was 12 in which he lost his virginity to a ‘much older French woman’.

‘I was 12, she was French and much older. It was very wrong, now that I think back,’ he said.

It was also a defining moment in his culinary journey. The street food amazed him. 

Shortly after returning home, Zonfrillo asked his parents to buy him a bike. It cost a fortune, he said, and his dad told him if he wanted it, he’d have to get a job to pay for it.

First, he tried Marks and Spencer. Then he approached Top Shop and Greggs bakery. All said no.

Finally, he was hired to wash dishes for cash in a local restaurant. Shortly after, he was moved onto vegetable duties. From then on, he knew he wanted to be a chef.

A year later, he moved on to a French restaurant, where colleagues introduced him to cocaine for the first time.

‘That was my entry point into that whole world,’ he said.

Eventually, he sought out the big city of Glasgow, lying to his parents with friends about weekends away and running amok while they were none the wiser.

‘Then the drugs started creeping in. This was the late 80s and Glasgow was absolutely awash with narcotics of all types. Vast amounts of heroin and no shortage of party drugs or weed. Even the ice cream vans sold drugs,’ he said.

‘We’d pool our money and go buy a gram of weed off the ice cream man, plus a couple of choc-dip cones to go with it – because when it came down to it, we were still children.

‘We’d smoke a joint or we’d buy a pill, which were about £25 each back then, and split it four ways. So technically we were doing class A drugs, but not in a serious way: it was a lark. That line between boyhood shit and too-real grown-man s**t was barely there for us.’

But the ‘lark’ soon progressed into heavy heroin use. 

He described the first high as ‘unlike anything he’d every had before’ and, soon afterwards, began seeking it out himself.

‘I realised that smoking heroin was a waste of time and injecting was the faster way to the high I needed,’ he said.

‘If I wasn’t shooting up at least twice a day I’d get sick with the first symptoms of withdrawal: shakes, muscle pain, nausea.’ 

Zonfrillo is seen kissing wife Lauren Fried on March 25, 2022

Zonfrillo is seen on the left kissing wife Lauren Fried on March 25, 2022. The couple is pictured right at a David Jones event in Melbourne on October 12, 2022

Zonfrillo's colleagues on MasterChef did not seem to know he had died as the publicity machine for the new season was in motion as late as 11:30am on Monday, when Melissa Leong posted a countdown clock for the premiere on her Instagram account

Zonfrillo’s colleagues on MasterChef did not seem to know he had died as the publicity machine for the new season was in motion as late as 11:30am on Monday, when Melissa Leong posted a countdown clock for the premiere on her Instagram account

The Scottish-Australian chef and restaurateur became a host of the popular Channel 10 cooking show in 2019 alongside Andy Allen (far left) and Melissa Leong (right). British chef Jamie Oliver (centre) was due to be a guest judge on this year's season of MasterChef

The Scottish-Australian chef and restaurateur became a host of the popular Channel 10 cooking show in 2019 alongside Andy Allen (far left) and Melissa Leong (right). British chef Jamie Oliver (centre) was due to be a guest judge on this year’s season of MasterChef

In 1994, he landed a role in the kitchen for Marco Pierre White. He was homeless, and quietly began sleeping in the change room in work, a month behind on payments to his heroin dealers and struggling to survive.

He claimed that he had told Marco Pierre White all about his addiction and not having a roof over his head. 

‘He didn’t fire me. Instead, he picked up the phone, put in a call to the hostel and asked them to fast-track me on the waiting list and find a bed for me,’ Zonfrillo recalled.

‘In the meantime, he put me in touch with a couple of boys from Canteen, the other restaurant he owned, and arranged for me to sleep on their sofa until I could get my shit together. He even advanced me some cash to tide me over.’

READ MORE: Channel 10 cancels MasterChef after Jock’s death 

Network 10 has announced MasterChef Australia will be postponed following the sudden death of judge Jock Zonfrillo.

The fifteenth season of the cooking show was set to premiere on Monday but Ten has confirmed it will not be airing this week.

The network had high hopes for the latest season, having secured British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver as a fourth judge in a major coup. 

Following the release of the memoir, White said much of what was written about his exchanges with Zonfrillo were untrue. 

He has no recollection of ever speaking with him about his living situation, and says he did not loan him money.

In fact, despite being referred to 157 times in the memoir and being described as Zonfrillo’s lead source of inspiration and a father-figure, White says the pair actually had very little to do with one another.  

‘I never saw much of [Zonfrillo], and he worked in my kitchen for a very short time,’ he said.

Zonfrillo doubled down on the ‘story of his life’, and maintained finding cooking set him on the path to greatness, crediting it for saving him. 

‘If I hadn’t found cooking as a career path, I would have ended up just another statistic of the Glasgow heroin epidemic,’ he said.

‘Having a career working for amazing people, in outstanding restaurants that demanded everything of me, meant that there was something heroin couldn’t take from me. 

‘I would have been dead long ago. Because I was already on that path when heroin began to take over my life, I was able to hold on. Talent left unacknowledged turns into resentment and dies, and if that had happened to my love of cooking, I would have died along with it.’

Zonfrillo met his wife, Kelly, during a short holiday to Australia. The duo returned to London when his visa expired, but travelled to Sydney once more in 2000. 

He says she had no idea he was addicted to heroin at the time, and the couple separated in 2002.

‘At this stage of my life I was an irredeemable workaholic, which is just as bad as being an alcoholic or a drug addict in terms of invading your family life.’

Over the next decade, Zonfrillo honed his passion for native Australian ingredients and cuisine, launching his first restaurant, Orana, in Adelaide in 2013.

Zonfrillo had talent in spades, but he also had an incredible knack for marketing himself. 

By 2017, he was one of the most celebrated chefs in the country. And in 2019, he joined MasterChef as one of the judges in a huge shake-up for the hugely successful cooking show.

He said in his memoir he considered turning the role down, wary of the level of fame and scrutiny it could bring.

‘Chefs hate on Jamie Oliver because he’s best known as a TV guy. I don’t. I love the guy. I’ve known chefs with three hats who loathe TV cooks. They hate them because they’re getting paid s**tloads of money to do what is a fairly easy job compared to being a hands-on chef, but if they’re teaching somebody a little bit of good nutrition or how to feed their kids then what’s the harm,’ he said.

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