My last conversation with Jock Zonfrillo

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It could have been an email Q+A, but I’m thankful instead Jock Zonfrillo and I shared another one of our famed, long and rambling chats just last week.

There was no presentiment that this could be our last catch-up.

He’d been in Italy with his family after MasterChef season 15 wrapped, I was on holidays but we both shifted our schedules around so it would work.

As News’ resident MasterChef guru I caught up with Jock and his fellow judges Melissa Leong and Andy Allen regularly after announcing their appointment in 2019. And it swiftly became like touching base with friends, rather than an annual appointment with TV celebrities to promote their hit show.

Chatting with Jock was always easy – and lengthy (the bane of Ten publicist’s schedules).

Last Monday was no different – he was excited for the new season, telling me about the new batch of great characters, and how happy he was that former contestant Brent Draper, who exited the kitchen abruptly in 2021, had returned.

MasterChef's Jock Zonfrillo was a friend to many in the TV and hospitality industries. Picture: Eugene HylandMasterChef’s Jock Zonfrillo was a friend to many in the TV and hospitality industries. Picture: Eugene Hyland

Jock was in a reflective mood. There was a thread of a longing for simplicity, woven through our 30-minute conversation. I teased him that he was managing to bring everything back to the simple things – from the contestants’ return to good-old home cooking, or how a cup of tea and Scottish biscuits never failed to bring a smile to his face. And most of all how he longed for a simple life away from the hoi polloi of celebrity.

He also mused just how much he missed the autumnal beauty of the Adelaide Hills.

“I was at my most happiest – I think – in the Hills,” Jock said, as we were attempting to wrap up.

“You know, whether it was the house in Summertown or when I lived in the church for a couple of years. It was great.

“I loved being part of that community of winemakers and families with their kids.”

We first crossed paths in 2016 for Nine’s Chef Exchange. Jock had forgotten he’d agreed to the interview and was driving. But he pulled his car over and was patient as this-then relatively new TV writer rather nervously fumbled through a chat with an award-winning, world-renowned chef.

MasterChef Australia judges Andy Allen, Jock Zonfrillo and Melissa Leong. Picture: Network TenMasterChef Australia judges Andy Allen, Jock Zonfrillo and Melissa Leong. Picture: Network Ten

Since then we’d spoken over Zoom, on the phone, face-to-face in his MasterChef trailer or on location for a contestants’ challenge so many times I’ve lost track – including a mammoth 90-minute phone call ahead of his 2021 memoir Last Shot coming out. He was making a set of his handcrafted worry beads as we chatted then. Jock laughed when I queried if he was shaving – given that’s what it sounded like down the phone. He was often multi-tasking, always busy, but would find time in that frenetic schedule for me.

If I visited the impressive MasterChef set or saw him at an event, he’d give me the European double kiss on the cheeks. And then ask for my restaurant recommendations back in Adelaide, wanting my thoughts on the latest offerings in his former hometown.

When tough times happened in my own family last year, Jock would also ask first how I was going, before getting down to the nuts and bolts of the latest iteration of Ten’s flagship show.

Our last words – “You know we’d always have you back here (in Adelaide),” I said again, like I said every time.

He laughed, like usual, adding: “I know, I know – you never know, Lisa. Never, say never.”

More Coverage

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Jock was passionate, generous, honest, funny and kind – really kind. And it was always a joy to hear his Scottish brogue down the line, and again when I’d have to transcribe his words.

I’ll miss that. I’ll miss him.

Originally published as My last conversation with MasterChef judge Jock Zonfrillo

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