Categories: PeopleHow I Travel

Going Places With People: MasterChef Australia Judge Jock Zonfrillo Says He Wants To Eat At Every Street Food Stall In India

From doing dishes in his teenage years to becoming a head chef at age 22, to now being a judge on MasterChef Australia—the popular culinary competition streaming on Disney+ Hotstar—Jock Zonfrillo is a fascinating personality. In conversation with Travel + Leisure India & South Asia, the Scottish-origin chef talks about his love for food, prioritising mental health, and India plans. By Bayar Jain

T+L India: What motivated you to be a judge on MasterChef Australia?

Jock Zonfrillo: It was amazing to be asked to be a judge after being on the show a fair few times. Being a judge is completely different—you know you are there every day! But the chance to be a judge on the best cooking show in the world? Who’s going to say no to that!

T+L India: You’ve been a judge on other projects. How is this different?

Jock Zonfrillo: MasterChef Australia is such an amazing show, and it is globally recognised. I think it’s easily the best cooking show in the world! So it’s different in that regard. The show’s following has a global reach unlike any other. So to be able to connect—not only with contestants from different cultures and food backgrounds and mentor them through the competition—but also with amazing fans from all over the world. That is incredible!

T+L India: What’s new on the latest season of MasterChef Australia?

Jock Zonfrillo: Well, Mel (Melissa Leong) has got lots of new earrings, Andy (Allen) has got lots of new trainers, and I’ve got lots of new suits (laughs). There’s a lot going on in this season with the ‘Fans and Favourites’ [concept]. There are 12 returning contestants including Billie (McKay), Sashi (Cheliah), and Julie (Goodwin)—who have all won before. The other nine of the Favourites didn’t win, but are back to try and lift the trophy. This season, the food is amazing right from day two because the Fans realised that the Favourites have been at the kitchen before and that their cooking skills were pretty high. So, the standard of food in this season is incredible!

T+L India: How do you deal with criticism?

Jock Zonfrillo: I’m all ears to constructive criticism. I’m always trying to be a better person, whether it’s in my personal life or my job. And if I’m the one providing criticism, I like to do it with an element of tactfulness and consideration for who I’m criticising or what I’m criticising. It’s always good to criticise with kindness.

T+L India: You’re vocal about mental health. How does one cope with mental health difficulties in a high-functioning kitchen environment?

Jock Zonfrillo: I think it’s about picking and choosing where you work and who you work for. You need to be somewhere where you know there’s a level of trust, that the chef or the management are understanding about any mental health issues that you may have or are going through, or that you’re seeing someone and require the time to do that, that you’re not forced into a position that is high-stress and high-anxiety. I think it’s about being honest with your employer, talking about it, and not going for a job that puts you in the direct firing line.

T+L India: Favourite culinary destination?

Jock Zonfrillo: My father’s side of the family is Italian, so I visit Italy twice a year. I love the variety of food in Italy. The difference in food from North to South is amazing. And I have to say that I’m looking forward to going to India. I had planned a three-months-long trip before COVID-19 struck but I couldn’t go. I had planned the trip purely to eat around in India because I’m fascinated by Indian cuisine. There’s such diversity in the cuisines regionally, and I want to deep dive into that. Even three months wouldn’t have been enough, but it’s a start. I can’t wait to get over there, visit all the states and try to get a feel of and understand the differences between those states and cuisines.

T+L India: Favourite Indian dish?

Jock Zonfrillo: Tikka masala. I grew up eating that in Glasgow (Scotland). I’ve eaten so much of it, it’s ridiculous! I love it. I also love butter chicken—whether it is a butter chicken toastie or a jaffle using naan in the jaffle machine…so good!

T+L India: What’s the first thing you’d like to eat when in India?

Jock Zonfrillo:  I would be stopping the car at a street side food stall or small restaurant on the way from the airport to wherever I’m staying! I can’t wait for that moment where you step out and you’re greeted with the smell of food cooking, the rabble of a different language, and the feel of a different culture. Honestly, it wouldn’t matter what I was eating. I wouldn’t be going for a particular dish because I’d want to be eating things that I just have no idea about. So the first thing I want to eat when in India is something I’ve never eaten before.

T+L India: Favourite Indian chef(s)?

Jock Zonfrillo: Garima Arora is easily one of my favourite chef. She has got a restaurant in Thailand but we had her over for in Australia a while back. She is an incredibly talented chef who’s using her Indian heritage to great affect, and some of the dishes that she’s creating are just magic.

T+L India: Your comfort food?

Jock Zonfrillo: I’m going to lean back on two things: one is cacio e pepe, and two, carbonara. These are two classic Italian dishes that I lean back on in times of comfort. I’ve also got a Scottish side and classical French training where I like adobo beef  or a tarte tatin. Some of those classic French dishes are very comforting because it’s what I cut my teeth on growing up in the kitchens.

Related: Did You Know MasterChef Australia 2018 Winner Sashi Cheliah Used To Be A Prison Guard?

Bayar Jain

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