“I was lost before Lauren”: Jock Zonfrillo on love and family

The *Masterchef Australia* judge opens up.
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Jock Zonfrillo sadly passed away on April 30, 2023. A few years before his untimely passing, the beloved chef sat down with Australian Women’s Weekly to speak about his family – including his adorable son, Alfie, who was three-years-old at the time. 

“I’m a complete clown – totally immature most of the time,” Jock said, laughing, speaking about his family. 

With the blond poppet wedged on his hip, the Scottish chef, once described as a “kilt-wearing firebrand”, moved like bottled lightning around the kitchen, making coffee for the TV crew filming at his Melbourne home while checking on wife Lauren as she fed the latest addition to their family, Isla who was fourteen-weeks at the time.

“He’s a tornado!” laughed Lauren, a business advisor and marketing specialist who regularly appears as a panellist on ABC series Gruen.

“He’s got a lot of energy, he’s always fun to be around and he’s a very proud Scot,” she added, recalling how Jock would play bagpipe music when Alfie was a baby to alert him that it was dinnertime.

“When the bagpipes played, that meant it was time to eat, but sometimes he played bagpipe music if he was homesick or we had friends around, and poor little Alfie would be sitting there with his mouth gaping open, waiting for food. His Scottish charm is one of the things I love about him – but, thankfully, there’s no bagpipes with Isla.”

The Michelin-starred cook, who cut his kitchen teeth under luminaries Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay, spoke to The Weekly at his home to meet the family that changed his life.

The twice-divorced chef wasn’t looking for love when he met Lauren, but they’ve were inseparable ever since.

“She’s changed me,” Jock said frankly. “I was lost before she came along. I think my staff recognised it … I didn’t think I was ready to meet someone but we just clicked straight away.”

“With Loz,” as he affectionately called her, “life is just easier. We fit together so perfectly; we were all-in from day one, living life to the fullest. She is a beautiful addition to my life and it’s these moments with my family, rolling around on the carpet being silly with the kids or with Loz, that I’m truly happiest.”

Wondering where did Jock Zonfrillo live? Jock and his family were based out of Carlton, Melbourne, but it is reported that he was planning a move to Rome with Lauren and his children weeks before his passing. 

“She’s changed me, I was lost before she came along,” Jock speaking about wife Lauren.

Image: Julian Kingma

In October 2019, Jock was chosen to be one of the new MasterChef Australia judges after the iconic trio of Matt Preston, Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris left the popular show. They were big-name shoes to fill, but Jock didn’t hesitate when he got the call to join the show – and his instincts were spot-on.

The new judges – Jock, Melissa Leong and Andy Allen – proved an instant hit with viewers, who relished fresh faces on the old show. Jock’s self-deprecating humour endeared him to fans, but his star exploded when he caught the eye of US pop star Katy Perry.

The singer, appearing on the show as a guest judge, had sprained her hand and cheekily asked Jock to hand-feed her: “Put it in my mouth, Daddy …” she cooed, sending social media into a meltdown.

“I’m like, ‘What the?'” Jock said, laughing. “I’m in my mid-40s, I’m married, I’ve got kids! I didn’t even know where to look!”

Perry’s flirtation earnt Jock the nicknames “the hot Scot” and “the hot Jocklate”.

“There’s a slight disassociation with all of that,” he said, almost blushing. “I look at that guy on TV and it’s like it’s someone else, someone who just looks like me.”

Meanwhile, the global pandemic hit just as MasterChef Australia was midway through filming. And while the show kept on cooking, Jock was forced to shut the door of his acclaimed and much-loved Adelaide restaurant, Orana, in March 2020.

Gourmet Traveller’s Australian Restaurant of the Year in 2018, Orana had been his life’s vocation, where Jock immersed himself in his love of indigenous botanicals and ingredients.

“He’s got a lot of energy, he’s always fun to be around and he’s a very proud Scot.”

Credit: Julian Kingma
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There was a ray of sunshine on the horizon, though – the arrival of Isla, the youngest addition to Jock’s brood of kids. Her smooth and straightforward birth was in stark contrast to the dramatic arrival of Alfie, who was born eight weeks premature and spent the first five weeks of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit at an Adelaide hospital.

“It was hard because we couldn’t do anything for him,” Lauren reflected. “He had cords coming out of everywhere, and he was so tiny. We felt a sense of helplessness.

“Immediately after Isla was born, she was given to me to feed in the birthing suite, and I was like, ‘What? My baby can stay with me?’ She was three times Alfie’s size. It was such a different experience and we feel incredibly blessed.”

Alfie clearly adores his new sister, gently patting her head and wiping tears from her cheeks when she cries. For Jock, too, baby Isla has rounded off the family.

“I’ve learnt more and more with each child,” said Jock, who has two older daughters – Ava and Sofia – from previous marriages.

“I always wanted to be a father and I could always see myself having a large family. I adore the girls, and it’s wonderful having little ones in the house, too. There’s nothing better than having time to just do nothing with my kids – not checking emails or answering calls, just being with them.”

It’s not a cliché to say theirs truly was love at first sight. In 2017, Jock and Lauren were introduced by a friend of hers, who’d met Jock at a work function and thought they’d make a perfect match. They were inseparable from their first dinner date and got engaged soon after.

Lauren says the challenges of Alfie’s arrival could have broken them. But during the long nights at the hospital, watching over the precious bub, they talked about their future, their hopes and dreams, and what sort of parents they wanted to be, which strengthened their relationship.

“That time really tested us,” she said. “It was very intense, but it gave us a bond that we could never have imagined. It cemented our love for one another and gave us a greater appreciation for the simple stuff in life.”

Jock added: “I relish every moment of my life. Loz and I met later in life, so we created an environment between us that was a loving bubble of joy. Alfie came along and joined that bubble, and Isla has brought so much more love and joy to our family unit.”

Jock made no secret of the fact it’s been a long, hard road reaching this point of happiness in his life, and his soon-to-be-released memoir will no doubt be a page-turner.

He began his career in the kitchen at age 12, washing dishes in his spare time to earn enough pocket money to buy himself a bike. His first lucky break came not long after, when one of the chefs had a motorbike accident and Jock was asked to lend a hand in the kitchen.

“The head chef said, ‘We’re one short and I need someone to cook the veg’. I agreed to do it – on the condition I never washed another dish again. He took me into the kitchen and showed me what to do.

“I loved it! I went home that night on cloud nine. Being in the kitchen was exhilarating. I felt like I was part of something special, I was part of a team. There was such a buzz during service; it was exciting and scary and wonderful. I was hooked and, much to my parents’ horror, from that day on I totally disengaged from school.”

As soon as he was legally able to leave school, he did, and by the age of 15, Jock was working full-time in a kitchen. But he was also in the grip of a serious heroin addiction.

“In drug use there’s always two versions,” he said frankly. “There’s the down-and-out user, the one you think of lying in the back alleys, and there’s the high-functioning user. I was high functioning. I was always in the kitchen on time, ready to work.

“Except this one time during my apprenticeship …” he adds, “when I turned up for work four days late. In hindsight, I was lucky to be alive.”

At 17, after being sacked from his job, Jock packed his worldly possessions – which weren’t much more than a toothbrush and his kitchen knives – into a plastic Tesco bag and used the last of his money on a train ticket to London. There, he boldly knocked on the door of Marco Pierre White’s Hyde Park Hotel restaurant, looking for a job.

Whether you believe in fate or just plain luck, the gods were smiling on Jock that day because the world-famous chef answered the door and offered him a chance to prove himself.

“He was the last person I was expecting to open the door! It was like seeing Madonna,” Jock recalled. “He was so famous, he was huge. He told me to come in and he gave me a job right there and then. I started that day.

“Marco was amazing because he understood what was going on with me as a young man. People were very quick to judge a drug addict; he didn’t. I was on my last chance, there’s no doubt about it, but he treated me exactly the same as everybody else. He was a great mentor.”

“I always wanted to be a father.”

Credit: Julian Kingma

Jock finally kicked his addiction when he arrived in Australia in 2000. He was very open about his experiences in the hope it will help others, and says that as a parent of teenage daughters, it’s vital to be open and honest.

“Honesty is the best policy. If you lie to your kids, you’ll get found out at some point, and it’ll come back to bite you,” he reasonsed “I think I’m better equipped as a father to deal with the issues my kids may face, having been through this myself.”

Alfie buzzed around in the background, happily distracted by a fancy kitchen play set given to him by dear friends Jimmy and Jane Barnes. Both free-spirited, Jock and rock singer Jimmy became ‘brothers’ years ago; a friendship bookended by shared Scottish heritage and a love of ‘Glasgow’ rolls made of thick, square sausage and lashings of HP Sauce.

The men are known to enjoy belting out a spirited rendition of the traditional Scottish ballad Caledonia, and Jock even made an impromptu appearance during one of Jimmy and Jane’s much-loved home iso performances.

“Jimmy’s voice is much louder than mine, thankfully!” Jock said, grinning.

The one silver lining from closing his restaurant is that Jock will have rare time off during holidays to spend with family and friends – including Jimmy and Jane – and he can hardly wait.

“I’ve spent my entire working life cooking for other people at Easter and Christmas, which is what I love to do, but for now, when I’m not attached to a restaurant, I’m going to make the most of it,” Jock says. “I’m going to switch off my phone for a week and enjoy this moment in my life.”

If you or someone you know has been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, help is always available. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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