Jock Zonfrillo shares his passion for coffee and hospitality

Scottish-born chef Jock Zonfrillo speaks to BeanScene about his coffee obsession, heavy heart for the hospitality industry, and unexpected fascination with Indigenous culture.

When Jock Zonfrillo answers BeanScene’s Zoom call from Victorian bushland with birds chirping in the background, he comes into focus with the same beaming smile and thick Scottish accent viewers have come to love from the MasterChef Australia judge.

It’s only 11.10am in the morning and Jock is out to impress when asked if he’s had his morning brew. 

“Do you want the honest answer or the ‘don’t embarrass myself’ answer?” he says. “I’ve had four double macchiatos. Yes, I drink a lot of coffee. On a standard day I have between four to six double macchiatos then I switch to espresso in the afternoon. I’m a coffee lover.”

For a real kick, Jock suggests a sommelier’s breakfast, a shot of Campari and a strong shot of espresso mixed together. “Straight down the hatch. It’s the perfect afternoon pick me up,” Jock says.

His introduction to coffee, however, was a lot more traditional than this concoction. Half Italian, half Scottish, Jock always loved the smell of coffee but never the taste.

“I was captivated by the aroma growing up. Going around to visit the Italian side of my family – Nonna, Nonno, and Uncle Tony – there was always coffee. They had that espresso machine with the eagle on top of it [an Elektra],” Jock says. 

“My Nonno used to drink quadruple shots of espresso with heaps of sugar in it. It was so thick you could stand a teaspoon in it. Then I tried my dad’s coffee and it wasn’t so sweet, and I was a little put off. It’s a funny thing, coffee. It’s like beer in a way. As a kid, you don’t really like the taste of it, but you drink it anyway because you think it makes you a man.”

Jock eventually found his peace with coffee, drinking copious amounts in commercial kitchens to withstand the long hours and level of concentration required. That was just the culture, he says. But now, the culture Jock enjoys most, is Melbourne’s, which he has been forced to experience since filming his first season of MasterChef. Due to COVID-19 boarder restrictions, Jock hasn’t been permitted to return to his home state of South Australia.

“I’m half Italian so I enjoy drinking good coffee no matter where I happen to be. In true Italian fashion, I’ll drink at the bar rather than sitting down for four hours, but I do love that I can do that without feeling like a coffee nerd,” Jock says. 

“It’s an accepted fact that there’s a passion for coffee here in Melbourne. You’re not singled out for having that passion, it’s just the norm, and that’s what I love about the Melbourne coffee scene.”

At home, Jock uses a single group La Marzocco GS3, which is adored as much as his children.  

“I love La Marzocco and I’m obsessed with their machines. Holy mackerel they are such good quality. I love everything about it – and if you’re like me, you’ll want to pimp it out with timber paddles, toggles, group caps, side panels etc. The guys at Specht Design can make your GS3 or any machine look and feel like the machine you’ve always dreamed of,” Jock says. “Like driving a beautiful car, a coffee machine can really make a difference to your coffee experience.” 

Jock is a Lavazza ambassador. He has always been a fan of the Italian brand and family-owned company, and more importantly, was a Lavazza coffee drinker long before becoming an official ambassador. 

“I love the Lavazza range. I don’t always stick to the same coffee, sometimes I enjoy the Kafa [single origin from Ethiopia], or the Espresso Barista range, which Lavazza launched in July and provides extreme consistency,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong, I can get down with the third wavers and talk about different types of varietals and extraction methods. I love tasting single estate beans and the connection you feel. But I also love Lavazza. It’s such a consistent brand that has so many varieties of beans and blends. It’s a flavour that’s embedded in my brain and one I look forward to every morning.” 

While happy to be his own barista, when Victoria’s lockdown lifted on 28 October, Jock ducked into Carlton’s DOC for an espresso and panini.

“How good was that day, seriously? Walking up Lygon Street and hearing people eating, sharing, laughing, noise, the coffee machine going and the smells – that’s the way it should be,” Jock says. “To see smiling faces behind counters of hospitality businesses again really did take a bit of the weight off my heavy heart. It has been a devastating year for everyone connected to hospitality.”

Jock has experienced his own personal battle, forced to close Restaurant Orana, his three-hatted Adelaide restaurant of seven years, in March.

“We packed up thinking we might shut for a couple of weeks or months, but sadly,  while we didn’t know it at the time, we wouldn’t reopen. Unfortunately, we were in a situation we couldn’t reopen with the restrictions in place. We have a small venue, so with social distancing, like for many people, it meant we couldn’t reopen and breakeven,” Jock says. 

“It was devastating to see – seven years of doing some great work and drawing attention to Indigenous culture through food – it was a really sad end, not just for me but our staff too. We’re all devastated. It’s a real bitter pill to swallow.” 

Jock has long been fascinated by Australia’s Indigenous culture. He had a vision of it being the oldest surviving culture in the world with an interesting cuisine to explore. But when Jock arrived in the mid-90s, he instead saw a “multicultural mix-up” of Asian and European cuisines he didn’t expect.  

He worked at Forty One restaurant in Sydney for 12 months before going back to London. When he immigrated to Australia permanently in 2000, Jock was determined to explore the Indigenous culture. He had a four-hour conversation with an Indigenous busker named Jimmy at Sydney’s Circular Quay and says the conversation changed his life. 

“I am spellbound by the Indigenous culture, not just as a chef but as a person. It’s one of the most fascinating cultures in the world, so complex and beautiful. I thought if I could uncover it and represent it in food in some way, then I was determined to do it,” Jock says.

While the Orana menu was one way Jock shared his love and respect for food with the Australian community, the other, has been his debut as one of the three new judges of MasterChef alongside Andy Allen and Melissa Leong. 

MasterChef was just amazing. We had such a great first year and there’s a great friendship between Andy, Mel, and myself. To be so warmly received by viewers in Australia and globally, has been fantastic. We feel super grateful it went down so well. And then we did Junior MasterChef – the cutest, most amazing show. I’m a father of four. I love kids – so to film with people with the same level of immaturity as me was the best because it meant I could be a clown all day and get away with it,” Jock laughs. 

Jock will end 2020 filming his second season of MasterChef.  Following production, Jock has his fingers crossed international travel will resume sometime in 2021 to see family and friends in Scotland and Italy. He’d normally spend the summer months on the southern coast of Italy in the towns of Scauri and Santi Cosma e Damiano, or in the Dolomites in winter. 

For now, he’s happy to indulge in Australia’s warmer climate and share his love for the outdoors with his kids.

“My kids value their time on country land. They love learning about Indigenous culture and have appreciated it from an early age. Sure, it might take you half a day to get to The Kimberley or Arnhem Land, but my God when you do, you’ll be a better person for the experience,” Jock says. “To have that diversity here in Australia is one of the main attractions for me as a chef and a person. And the bonus is that Australians love coffee as much if not more than any other country in the world.” 

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