Why Jamie Oliver wanted to make his late friend Jock Zonfrillo proud

‘We had to get it right.'
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Jamie Oliver might be a born-and-bred Brit, but the celebrity chef is here so often, he feels like an honorary Aussie.

“Every time I come here, I feel like I’m coming home,” Jamie, 48, tells TV WEEK. “It’s effortless for me. I laugh my heart out here. If I could find the excuse to be here for a couple of months every year, I’d be over the moon.”

Luckily for Jamie, he’s become a key ingredient in the MasterChef Australia line-up, meaning he gets to spend plenty of time down under. In fact, this season, Jamie has a much longer stint on the show than he’s ever had.

“I was very happy and proud to do [the show] last year and kick off the season,” Jamie recalls. “But this year, it was an absolute pleasure having a bit more time to bond with the contestants and get to know them on first-name terms and get to know their cooking much deeper.”

Coming back to the MasterChef Australia set was bittersweet for Jamie, as the last time he filmed the show was alongside his mate Jock Zonfrillo. Jock’s sudden death in 2023, just before season 15 aired, meant that the series acted almost as a tribute for the much-loved chef and MasterChef judge.

“Jock left a huge hole, and it was devastating for everyone,” Jamie recalls of losing his friend. “That made this year very important, and very emotional. This was an important year to get right for Jock, for the show and the contestants. I wouldn’t want to get involved unless [the show] was being done right, and I really feel we have.”

The MasterChef line-up had a shake-up – starting with chef and season-one runner-up Poh Ling Yeow, food critic Sofia Levin and Michelin-starred chef Jean-Christophe Novelli joining Andy Allen as judges.

Jamie says that while it was challenging to forge on without Jock, he loved working with the new judging panel.

“It required a lot of people to fill the hole Jock left, and we’re all very different,” he explains. “We’re trying to cover all the bases and make sure the judging and mentoring panel can look after the contestants and competition.”

Jamie thinks the Aussie version of the show is the gold standard globally.

“This is the best expression of MasterChef on the planet,” he says. “It’s big. It’s epic. It’s audacious. It’s heartfelt. So many people love it.

“Aussies tend to listen, and then go against the grain to do things better. There’s a format, which they’ve partly taken and then partly ignored, and they’ve done it bigger, better and more epic than any other country – including the one that invented the format!”

Jamie isn’t the only one in his family who loves Australia. Despite a fear of flying, his wife Jools, 49, couldn’t resist joining Jamie while he was filming. And the couple’s eldest daughter, Poppy, 22, also happened to be in Australia on a backpacking trip.

“I did give her the option of coming to Melbourne and have Daddy spoil her for a weekend, but she didn’t [do it],” Jamie laughs. “She has her head down and she’s doing it [backpacking] properly. She’s having a great time. I’m just happy that she’s happy.”

Jamie may be busy, but he’ll always make time for MasterChef Australia – so there’s every chance he’ll return next season.

“I consider myself a friend of the show,” he says. “I’m not a full-time judge, but I’m happy to be brought in. I just love it!”

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