X
Conquering Addiction & Obsession With Jock Zonfrillo
Interviews|Aug 19, 2021

Conquering Addiction & Obsession With Jock Zonfrillo

We Talk To Celebrity Chef Jock Zonfrillo About His Gritty New Memoir ‘Last Shot’.
Amie Wee

Celebrity chef and Masterchef Australia judge, Jock Zonfrillo, is one of Australia’s most celebrated chefs, but his new memoir, Last Shot, shows us a side of the Scottish bad boy that we haven’t seen until now. Last Shot is Zonfrillo’s gritty, honest tell-all chronicling his decades-long downward spiral into chaotic kitchens, cutthroat ambition, workaholism and a crippling heroin addiction. All of this was before he moved to Australia and turned his life around.

Zonfrillo started working in commercial kitchens as a teenager, and writes that his first experience with drugs was at the age of 13-years-old, when he was offered a line of cocaine by a couple of chefs during a shift in the kitchen.

At 15, Zonfrillo dropped out of school and became an apprentice at the upmarket Turnberry Hotel, which had a reputation at the time for being one of the most gruelling kitchens in Scotland. During his time at the Turnberry, he writes in Last Shot of being cornered in a freezer by an angry sous chef before being bashed with a frozen fish, and spending the rest of his shift cleaning up his own blood from the freezer walls.

By the time he was 17, Zonfrillo had secured a job in London working with the biggest name in food at the time: Marco Pierre White, who he credits with saving his life, despite continuing to fall further into the grip of his addiction.

This reckless behaviour continues until New Year’s Eve in 1999, when Zonfrillo did his last shot of heroin in the toilets of Heathrow Airport before boarding a plane to Sydney. He’s been clean ever since.

Penthouse spoke with Zonfrillo about how his obsession with food has been help and a hindrance to his recovery, his advice for people who might be struggling today, and ultimately, how he went from being flogged with a frozen fish to becoming a judge on the most wholesome cooking show in Australia.

 

Jock Zonfrillo

Jock Zonfrillo

 

Last Shot is a very raw and unflinching portrait of your journey through addiction. How did you find the process of having to relive a lot of those memories for the sake of the book?

There were a lot of tough parts for me because there’s a certain amount of unsavoury events in my life that have caused a lot of grief to the people around me - whether that be marriages, relationships, parents, whatever. Digging back into that stuff was tough, because the only way to write your memoir is to force yourself to sit there and put yourself mentally back into that time. I do have some regret, shame and embarrassment about a lot of the stuff that happened in my life. So yeah, it was a bit tough.

 

Was it important for you to publicly share your stories of addiction and recovery?

Yeah, it was one of the reasons for deciding to write Last Shot. There are so many snippets of my life and my stories in newspapers and magazines, but it’s only ever one or two little stories and it’s kind of out of context in a lot of ways. I would go as far as to say that some of those stories glamourise my addiction and behaviour. When I was deciding to do the book or not, I felt bad that some of those articles made it look cool that I was a drug addict. Being on Masterchef, having a profile; I didn’t want a couple of glamorisations of my story to influence somebody who’s having a tough time or messing around with drugs, or who is a drug addict, read an article like that and think “oh well, you know, Jock was fine”. I wanted to put my story in context, so you could see all the bad bits, warts and all, and of course that meant having to do a deep dive into that stuff and not hold back. It was important for me to not just have the happy stories, but have the really dark, ugly, unsavoury bits in there as well.

 

Did you find any catharsis in writing the book?

It was definitely not cathartic! I would say it bordered on being traumatic, but I knew that I owed it to myself and to the people who are struggling, or those who have a struggle ahead of them and they don’t know it yet, to tell the truth and tell the bad stuff. It was hard, but by the time I’d finished the book, I was kind of faced with the reality of my life between a hardcover. Looking at the turmoil, the trauma, and all the dramatic ups and downs in my life, it made me question what had the biggest traumatic impact on my life – was it an addiction?  Or was it actually an obsession with food? I think it was probably the obsession.

It was important for me to not just have the happy stories, but have the really dark, ugly, unsavoury bits in there as well

Can you elaborate on that?

A lot of the chaotic debris I left behind in my life was because of having an obsession with food and putting food first. My career, broken friendships, marriages ending – a lot of that was driven through an obsession with food. I think that probably did more damage in my life than the addiction did.

 

It’s interesting you say that, because a lot of the articles written about you say that food saved your life…

Yeah, but by the same token, if I didn’t have that obsession, I wouldn’t have made it out of addiction, that’s for sure. I can guarantee you that. It’s kind of like a warning. Obsessions are so unhealthy, and part of me now, my makeup, and having had a lot of psychological help and sitting on couches with psych’s, is that I’ve been trained to recognise my behavioural patterns when I start becoming obsessed with something food-related. I might be on a new journey to learn about some cuisine from somewhere or some culture, and I’ll start going down this hole of obsessiveness. I now know when that’s happening and I can go, “hang on a second, I don’t want to go down that road.” I think that’s such a big takeaway. Yes, Last Shot is a story of conquering addiction, but it’s also one of conquering obsession. I just didn’t see it like that until I’d written the book and saw my entire life there in front of me.

 

When food is your livelihood, how do you stay passionate without becoming obsessed in an unhealthy way? Does being a judge on Masterchef fuel the obsession?

I don’t think it fuels the obsession because it doesn’t allow me to become a professor in the kitchen and run my own race. Masterchef is very much a team effort with over a hundred people on set every day, and another hundred people in the editing suite. It’s very much a team environment and I’m one of many, and I really love that. I love the team environment and it also means I don’t have time or the opportunity to fall into some weird Mad Hatter’s obsession, which is great. It’s more around the lines of being able to mentor people who are super passionate about food. It’s more about mentoring than the bad obsessive stuff I could fall into.

 

In the book you talk about the “paradox of parallel lives”, where you were striving to plate up perfection in Michelin star restaurants while at the same time, your life was a mess. Can you tell us more about that?

I was talking to someone about this the other day. There was a weird sort of, I don’t know if camaraderie is the right word, but there was this weird culture in the kitchen that the harder you work, the longer hours you did, the better chef you were. So there was this idea that being a workaholic meant you were a really great chef. That’s the way it was and that’s what everybody’s expectations were. And it’s just so misguided and so stupid. But certainly, that’s the way it was in the old days, in those kitchens.

 

Do you ever find it surreal that you’ve gone from being whacked with a frozen fish and punched out in kitchens to becoming a celebrity chef and a judge on the most wholesome cooking show on television?

I can remember watching Masterchef as a kid, sitting on the carpet in my mum and dad’s living room back in the UK. Masterchef has always been around my life and I used to watch the version over here with my kids as well. It’s such a beautifully made show. You used the word wholesome, but it doesn’t seem to be enough of a word for that show. There’s no malice. There’s mentoring on and off screen, probably more off the screen than people would see. We as judges, really sort of are there for the contestants when they’ve had a really shit cook and things didn’t go right for them and we’re there to talk about what went wrong and how to avoid it next time. We don’t want anyone to fail at the end of the day and that’s what’s beautiful about Masterchef. People leave first, second, third, fourth, fifth, six, seventh, eighth and they’re all going to have really amazing careers after the show. How good is that? That’s such an amazing thing to have in a TV show without all the negative stuff. It’s great.

There needs to be something more compelling than your addiction

Recently there have been some public critiques of your story…

Yeah, look. Everyone close to me knows my story and knows me. I just got off the phone with someone I worked with at Marco’s [Marco Pierre White] restaurant in London, and he was saying, “Wow, what a wild ride that was 25 years ago.” It’s hard to remember everything that was going on at that time because everyone had their own shit that they were going through. You never really knew as much as you think you might know about the people you’re standing next to all day. But the book is doing really well. I believe it’s getting reprinted already. It’s all very positive.

 

What advice would you give someone who is struggling today?

I just think you need to surround yourself with the right people. Sometimes that means having a massive change in your life. For me, it was moving; it was emigrating, it was getting out of the circle of friends and the people I was around and coming to a new country for a fresh start. And, I had some loved ones around me that I knew I could talk to and would support me in the decisions I was making on the road to recovery. I think making that change is one of the most important things. You cannot conquer any kind of addiction; it doesn’t matter if it’s drugs or something else, if you don’t change where you’re standing. You just never get over it. That’s the first thing. The second thing is there definitely needs to be something more compelling than your addiction. I have a mate that was a gambling addict. The only thing that ultimately ended up pulling him out of that was the love for his family and his kids, and as his kids were growing up, he became closer connected to them. That was a far more compelling driver in his life that pulled him further and further away from the gambling. I think it’s really important for people to find out what that thing is for them. As we were talking about earlier, mine was food, but it definitely became an obsession for me, which created its own problems and challenges.

 

Image

Last Shot by Jock Zonfrillo (Simon & Schuster Australia $45) is out now. You can pick up your copy here.

AUTHOR PHOTOS: Headshot 1_©Jacqui Way