“MasterChef Australia” host Jock Zonfrillo has died suddenly age 46 on the eve of the cooking show’s new series, according to a statement from Australian broadcaster Network 10. The Scottish presenter passed away in Melbourne on Sunday, according to the statement, which gave no cause of death.
Zonfrillo joined the popular cooking competition in 2019, and had been due to star in the premiere of the new series on Monday alongside guest judge British chef Jamie Oliver.
The episode has been pulled from air, Network 10 said in their statement.
Born in Glasgow in 1976, Zonfrillo learned his trade from some of the world’s most celebrated chefs.
His career in the kitchen began in the United Kingdom, where he worked in London under chef Marco Pierre White, whom he later credited with saving his life.
Zonfrillo had tried heroin as a teenager in Glasgow and drug addiction followed him for years as he built on his early success, according to his memoir “Last Shot,” which was published last year.
The book’s description reads: “For years he balanced a career as a rising star amongst legendary chefs with a crippling drug addiction that took him down many dark paths.”
Zonfrillo left the UK in 1999 and established himself in Australia as the head chef at Restaurant 41 in Sydney. He then opened his own fine dining establishment, Restaurant Orana in Adelaide, which won culinary accolades in 2019 and 2020 before its closure.
He hosted a number of cooking programs, including “Nomad Chef,” which gave an insight into cuisine in some of the world’s most remote communities, as well as “Restaurant Revolution” and “Chef Exchange.”
In 2016, he founded The Orana Foundation, with a mission to highlight the qualities of Australia’s Indigenous food. And in 2018, he won the prestigious Basque Culinary World Prize for championing Indigenous culture and culinary traditions.
But perhaps his most high-profile role was on the Australian series of “MasterChef,” the incredibly popular television program, that in recent years made him a household name in the country.
Zonfrillo leaves a wife, Lauren Fried, and four children.
In a statement shared by Network 10, Zonfrillo’s family said they were devastated by his passing.
“So many words can describe him, so many stories can be told, but at this time we’re too overwhelmed to put them into words. For those who crossed his path, became his mate, or were lucky enough to be his family, keep this proud Scot in your hearts when you have your next whisky.”
“We implore you to please let us grieve privately as we find a way to navigate through this and find space on the other side to celebrate our irreplaceable husband, father, brother, son and friend,” the statement added.
In a post on Facebook, celebrity chief Oliver said he was in “total shock” to wake up to news of Zonfrillo’s death.
“We had the best time working together for this years master chef … Jock was very generous to me with his time and spirit in the show and for that I was really grateful…” he wrote.
“Jock will be so very missed … I can’t believe I’m writing this,” he added.
Fellow British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay called Zonfrillo’s death “devastating news”.
“I truly enjoyed the time we spent together on MasterChef in Australia,” he wrote on Twitter. “Sending all my love to Lauren and the family in this difficult time.”