'It's Important To Celebrate Greatness In The Moment': Jock Zonfrillo On Applause And Nearing The Top 10 Of MasterChef Australia

Starting the season with 24 Fans and returning Faves, the standard of cooking in the MasterChef kitchen has never been higher.

Now, nearing the pointy end of the competition, judge Jock Zonfrillo looked back at the moment he first saw the names of some chefs who had decided to return for another shot at glory.

“If you’ve won MasterChef, why would you want to come back and get knocked out in the first week? There was a risk, right?” Jock told 10 play.

“I think it was incredibly brave of Billie, Sashi and Julie — especially Julie — to come back.”

Thinking back to the very first season when Julie Goodwin became the first ever to win MasterChef Australia the competition was very different. There were no pressure tests, but rather chefs had to complete skills tests like finely dicing an onion.

“It’s such a different competition, so it’s really brave of Julie to come back I think, but it’s like I said to her on day one… the style of food might change, or the trend of how we plate food or whether it’s share plates versus fancy fine-dining food, [but] the flavour and the taste and how to cook something never changes.

“That’s what she had to understand and set aside and let herself just cook freely... It’s too easy if you’re a previous winner to get caught up in your head. I think it was harder for them,” Jock added.

In the last few weeks, the judges have been forced to make some very close calls when it comes to eliminations. Even the slightest mistake can end someone’s time in the competition, with the Fans stepping up the quality of their cooking exponentially each week.

“I think having the Fans and the Favourites meant the standard of food, early on, just got better and better,” Jock said.

“What I noticed this season, the Fans were trying to reach the Favourites bar… and the bar was set so high from the beginning that everybody was doing homework.”

Practising dishes after a day of filming and cooking during the weekend, the Fans didn’t want to be left behind. Meanwhile, the Favourites found themselves in a position where they were mentoring their competition.

“There was a different dynamic with the group together because of that, and I think it took a little bit of that pressure off of the favourites in a way,” he said, adding, “some of the relationships in this season that came through as well, it was amazing to watch.

This season, Jock has started to replace praise with a simple ovation, literally applauding a dish when a chef has served the judges something near perfect.

“It just occurred to me, you know what? These guys have this huge pressure on themselves, trying to cook something and they don’t always get it right,” he explained.

“More often than not they don’t get it right. I think it’s important to celebrate greatness in the moment when it happens.

“I’ll only give it out when it is an extraordinary dish, I think that’s worth a round of applause. If we can applaud for a time call, surely we can applaud somebody making a good dish,” Jock added, laughing.

On Sunday, culinary icon Rick Stein will join Jock, Mel and Andy in the kitchen for an elimination that will reveal which chefs make it to the Top 10 this year.

“Having Rick Stein on was probably one of my favourites,” Jock said. “Rick Stein is such a legend — doesn’t matter if you’re from the UK or Australia I think everyone my age or older grew up watching Rick Stein on the telly.

“He’s an old school kind of cook, and I think him sharing his knowledge to the contestants… it was brilliant to have him,” he added.

As the pointy end of the competition creeps ever closer, the chefs begin to feel even more pressure. Jock believes that a lot of that pressure is from the chefs themselves.

“That was a lot of their goal, to reach the Top 10, once they’ve reached the Top 10 their next goal is to reach the Top 5 and, as is always the case, there are less dishes to be judged and so they know that the competition is tighter,” he explained.

“If you have a bad cook or a bad day, you really are in danger of going home and so you see that in the kitchen, you see it in the way they cook as well. They’re a lot more deliberate, they take less chances — but when there’s an advantage up for play they really push the boat out.

“That’s when sometimes, unfortunately, we see some spectacular failures. And sometimes we see some round of applause.”

MasterChef Australia Fans & Favourites airs Sunday - Thursday at 7.30pm on 10 and 10 play on demand