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Jock Zonfrillo: 'Being different is my richness'

Scottish-Italian Jock Zonfrillo is multi-award chef and judge at 2020-2021 MasterChef Australia. Source: Jock Zonfrillo

MasterChef judge Jock Zonfrillo shares the story of his multicultural identity which has helped contribute to defining his Australian modern gastronomy identity.

Multiculturalism is not only a feature of Australian society but what distinguishes celebrity chef Jock Zonfrillo’s cuisine. The key, he says, is respect.

Born in Glasgow to a Scottish mother and Italian father, the Adelaide-based multi-awarded chef is proud of his plural identity.

“I couldn’t be more grateful and thankful of all the cultures that make who I am,” he told SBS Italian.

Since he moved to Australia in 2000, he says he made it his mission to enhance Australian native ingredients and blend them with international gastronomy.

At The Orana Foundation and Restaurant - Gourmet Traveller's Restaurant of the Year that since closed in October 2020 - he has investigated and promoted Australian food heritage, which he embedded in his fine-dining cuisine.

Two dishes with a cross-cultural story

Cacio e pepe is “a dish that is very close to my heart,” he says, reminding him of his nonno Bernardo’s traditional cooking but at his restaurant, it was prepared with New South Wales-native Dorrigo pepper.

“That is the epitome of fusion dining in a respectful way, and people loved it because they understood a little bit more about who I am and about Aboriginal ingredients, they understood it’s just another ingredient as valuable as black pepper and that can be integrated into different cultures,” he told SBS Italian.

Cacio e pepe is a traditional Roman dish made with Italian sheep cheese and black pepper.
Cacio e pepe is a traditional Roman dish made with Italian sheep cheese and black pepper.
Flickr/Kurman Communications Inc.

“Despite the fact that we were an Australian restaurant serving Aboriginal ingredients,” Zonfrillo continued, “it was important for me still to demonstrate who I am because Italian cuisine runs deep in my blood and is part of my story”.

Another at Zonfrillo’s Bistro Blackwood in Adelaide tells the story of discrimination that many Italian migrants suffered around the world because of their food. 

In Glasgow, Zonfrillo was teased by his mates because of the panini in his lunch box. At Bistro Blackwood, a sandwich made of pane di casa filled with mortadella fried red wine vinegar with green olives turned into a masterpiece of the bar menu. 

You’re teased for being different, but you know difference becomes part of your story, becomes your richness, a fabric of your being.

A risotto done with integrity

As part of his goal of promoting Australia’s Indigenous ingredients and culture in 2018, Jock Zonfrillo invited a group of international Michelin-starred chefs to travel to North-East Arnhem Land and cook with Aboriginal people.

“To show them Indigenous ingredients’ own country it was important rather than for them to see them just at my restaurant.” 

Three-Michelin-star Norbert Niederkofler and Christian and Manuel Costardi brothers - described by Mr Zonfrillo as the "risotto kings of Italy" - spent a week in Yirrkala.

“When they came they were inspired by the people, the culture, they were inspired by the ingredients and they wanted to cook for them and to give back, they wanted to show to the children part of where they came from,” chef Zonfrillo described.

The chefs went to a school and cooked risotto by using local ingredients that “we had foraged with the local community,” he said.

“So, the children were able to recognize both traditional ingredients from their culture but also learn something new about these Italian chefs who had come from the other side of the world and were super excited and interested in their culture as Indigenous people.

“For me, it’s so important to emboss their pride as Aboriginal people… it gets them a sense of pride and it gets them to hope for the future, it gets them that they’re valued.”