Jock Zonfrillo knows exactly what the Restaurant Revolution teams are about to go through – in fact, he did it just two years ago when he opened his first solo ventures in Adelaide.
Now Orana and Street-ADL are firing and he knows all those hours agonising over the menu, décor, location and staff were worth the sleepless nights. Whether the same fairytale ending happens for the five teams about to open their own restaurants, he’s not so sure.
“The mental pressure of not only making all the key decisions, everything from the colour of the room right through to how many staff to hire, is tough enough but then they are going to have to get into the business side of it, because this is real,” says Jock, 38.
“They are going to have to balance the books and to top it all off they’re on TV, so there’s a huge amount of pressure. They will be stressed; there will be tears, laughter and joy. Emotions will surface that you don’t even know you have, that only happen at that level of exhaustion and pressure.”
A chef for 23 years, Jock has worked with some of the world’s top chefs since starting his apprenticeship at age 15. From there, this half-Scottish, half-Italian who grew up in Glasgow, travelled to London and found himself working for one of the most respected chefs in the world, Marco Pierre White.
“I was working for Marco in London and sleeping in the changing rooms because I couldn’t afford anywhere to live. I got caught one night by the sommelier. He told Marco and I thought I was going to get sacked for sure, but instead Marco helped me out and got me somewhere to stay. The bond you create with people in this industry is like family.”
At the age of 19, he travelled to Australia for a year and worked at Sydney’s acclaimed Restaurant Forty One. His heart took him back to the UK and back to working for Marco among others, before he finally migrated to Australia in January 2000. However, around that time his frustration to try and find a culinary connection with Australia, a country he had fallen in love with, resulted in a sideways career move.
“I got really disillusioned with food because I couldn’t connect to the country. For me, at that time, there was no sense of Australian cuisine. I mean there were incredible restaurants of course, but none of them really gave me the sense of Australia I was looking for. I was searching for the native and indigenous flavours of this incredible land that was my new home. So I opened a business doing kitchen renovations and refurbishments and importing,” he explains.
That business flourished and eventually he sold it when his passion for cooking was reignited after moving to Adelaide in 2008. His dream restaurant, Orana, is now his pride and joy and celebrates Australian cuisine and indigenous ingredients. The more informal, Street-ADL, is a bar and restaurant where guests share street food inspired by Jock’s travels.
Jock believes the teams with strong emotional connections to their project, especially the chefs, will be the ones hardest hit by criticism of their restaurants, no matter how constructive.
“As a chef you become emotionally entrenched in an idea and that’s a great thing but it’s very hard to get out of that mindset at times and this can become a disadvantage. Whereas if you’re a business owner and you hire a chef you’re able to see what’s working and what’s not and if it’s not working you change it. They have to understand to take a step back from that emotional connection even for a second so they can look at the business objectively. This is going to be quite a journey.”
Jock lives in the Adelaide Hills surrounded by ingredients he uses in his cooking. He dives for scallops off Kangaroo Island and travels to different Aboriginal communities throughout Australia, continuing his ongoing research and learning of native Australian culture for the Orana Foundation.