Masterchef

EXCLUSIVE: MasterChef's Brent Draper reveals how Jock Zonfrillo is still supporting him through his mental health journey

''He is my idol and that was such a special moment for me.''

By Faye Couros
Last night, for the first time in MasterChef's long history, a contestant opted to leave the competition early, and Brent Draper's emotional moment with judge Jock Zonfrillo was an especially important watch.
Brent chose to leave the intense cooking show to take care of his mental health.
His admirable decision to listen to his wife's suggestion to come home for rest and support was an incredibly poignant TV moment because, for men, mental health is often set aside out of fear of appearing weak.
However, as much as this scene was able to play out on television because we are becoming more literate in men's mental health, Jock's incredibly nuanced and compassionate actions heightened the moment's impact.
Speaking with Now To Love, Brent reveals how Jock's actions in the test kitchen affected him and how the chef has supported him since.
The moment Brent put his hand up to ask to leave. Instagram
"He's told me he has had anxiety a lot of his life, and he opened up to me on this episode, so him sitting me down was actually really hard.
"Because when he started to tear up, when he started to break, seeing him talk to me on that level and start to break down, I couldn't say anything, so yeah, it was amazing but hard at the same time," Brent recounts from his conversation with Jock during the episode. Jock has been open about his mental health journey, and he has been an advocate for people struggling, which is why his moment with Brent was so emotional for him.
Brent remembers how Jock opened up to him about his anxiety, which made him realise how anxiety can happen to anyone.
"I remember him saying to me once, 'look at me, I have a wife, beautiful kids, a nice house, I have got money, why do I have anxiety, why?'
"Him saying that was almost like, if he gets it, then we all could get it, it doesn't discriminate, and it really helped me," shares Brent.
It was incredibly impactful when Jock handed Brent his iconic worry beads, and the gesture has been cathartic for Brent.
Even today the beads still act as a grounding pillar for him as he continues to work on his mental health.
Brent with the judges who are still supporting him since he left. Instagram
"I actually reckon for three weeks after I didn't go anywhere without them (worry beads), and they literally helped me relax and calm down so many times.
"I keep them in my car; they hang in there as a little reminder of where I have been and the people I have as support," reveals Brent.
Jock uses his worry beads to help him navigate his anxiety, and in a video on his Instagram, he explained how he uses them to cope.
"I've got lots of different types of worry beads, and when I'm feeling anxious, or a little bit stressed. Basically, I flick through them like that, and the more anxious and more worried you get, the faster I do it," said Jock.
He has also kept in contact with Brent since he left the show to check up on his health.
However, he isn't the only judge to do so, as Melissa Leong and Andy Allen have also reached out to Brent.
"The judges have all reached out to me, and I have all their numbers now; they are only a message away if I need someone to talk to," says Brent.
Of course, Brent has also received his most treasured support from his wife, Shonleigh, who supported him through his decision to leave.
"It was a long period where it got worse and worse, and I was just not sleeping at all at night. I had panic attacks at night and was trying to put on a brave face the next day.
"It came to the point where this bubble was going to burst, it needs to happen, and she (Shonleigh) pretty much encouraged me because she could see from the outside logically, she could see whereas I couldn't see the light, I couldn't see anything," shares Brent.
Despite perhaps experiencing some anxiety as a kid, this is the first time Brent has had to deal with mental health issues, which was made especially challenging during the night in the MasterChef apartment.
"When you are alone in the middle of the night, and there is no one awake, and it's dark, it's just a lonely place," says Brent.
For viewers at home, the strength within Brent's vulnerability was not just moving but an important moment for men to see another man be open about his mental health.
However, Brent says that he didn't realise the impact of his actions until people he knew started to reach out.
"I wasn't thinking of anything like this. I wouldn't think that I would have made such an impact. It was only when I got help and healed myself and thought telling my story may help a few people.
Brent's wife Shonleigh and their son Alfie. Instagram
"These guys I grew up with who are meant to be treated as tough have their wives calling me to tell me their husbands haven't cried in 12 years, and they are breaking down now, and I have had wives telling me they're crying together with their husbands.
"I think we are ready for that change; it's just that last hurdle," says the former MasterChef contestant.
Once Brent left the show with the support of his lovely wife and son, Alfie, he was able to visit his doctor, get a mental health plan and see a psychologist, and he has utilised some comforting techniques to help him through the healing process.
"Just doing things like cooking food for my mates, spending time with Alfie and time with Shonleigh and not just spending time but real quality, meditation, cold showers, just really doing the things that make me feel better," Brent tells Now To Love.
Brent has found cooking to be healing for him Instagram
Of course, cooking has also been a part of his healing process.
"I have been cooking and really getting stuck into it, and it's been really good for healing, and obviously cooking without the timer, but Alfie does act as that timer sometimes, but yeah cooking a lot, definitely," reveals Brent.
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