How ‘curse of the kitchen’ pushes chefs to the brink – tragic Jock Zonfrillo’s heroin battle to death of Ramsay protege | The Sun

How ‘curse of the kitchen’ pushes chefs to the brink – tragic Jock Zonfrillo’s heroin battle to death of Ramsay protege | The Sun

THE tragic death of MasterChef judge Jock Zonfrillo, at the age of 46, has shocked the culinary world. 

The talented chef, who starred in the Australian version of the TV cooking contest, was found dead in his Melbourne hotel room in the early hours of Monday morning and the cause of death is currently unknown.

The Scot, who learned his trade under top chefs including Marco Pierre White, had been open about his battle with heroin addiction in the past but is thought to have been in recovery for over two decades.

Having moved to Australia in 2000, where he settled with wife Lauren Fried and had four children, he said he had injected for the final time just before boarding his flight.

In his memoir, he revealed he got hooked on drugs as a teenager, working in kitchens in Glasgow, after he was offered cocaine by colleagues before progressing to ecstasy and heroin.

At one point, while his career in the kitchen was taking off, he was left homeless and in debt through his drug use and would shoot up at least twice a day, saying withdrawal left him with "shakes, muscle pain and nausea".

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Jock’s untimely death had shocked colleagues, including Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay, but his battle with addiction will come as little surprise to anyone who has worked in the restaurant trade. 

Studies show chefs are nearly twice as likely to be addicted to alcohol and drugs as the wider population and 9 per cent more vulnerable to suicide. 

In a 2017 survey a shocking 51 per cent of people who worked in kitchens confessed to debilitating stress and depression.

Staff shortages, lack of time, long and unsociable hours, lack of daylight and workplace bullying are among the reasons cited and a 2020 report from Nestle Professional discovered that more than 80 per cent of kitchen workers have experienced poor mental health during their careers.

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Here we look at the talented chefs whose addiction led to tragedy, and those who have turned their lives around. 

David Dempsey

David was just 31 years old, and was working as Gordon Ramsay’s head chef when he fell to his death from a London flat, in 2003.

The dad-of-two, who had helped Ramsay’s restaurant Amaryllis win Glasgow's only Michelin star, fell 40 feet from a windowsill after taking a potentially fatal dose of cocaine.

Ramsay told the inquest the pair had been to dinner the night before adding: "It wasn't the normal David. It was a guy that was, for me, looking as though he was under pressure."

He added: "He was a very talented chef, very young, passionate, dedicated, focused and energetic. His career meant everything to him."

In his 2017 documentary, Cocaine, the Kitchen Nightmares star recalled his protegee being “agitated” that night but said: “I never thought in my wildest dreams that David, my head chef, was on cocaine."

He added: "I went back home and he went back to Chelsea. He went to a dealer's house that gave him some s*** cocaine and it f***ed him over.

"David died after falling 40 feet from a block of flats. At the inquest it was described as an 'excited act of delirium fuelled by cocaine'.

"I kicked myself for not doing more and recognising it earlier."

Ramsay says David's death was behind his decision to investigate drug use in the restaurant trade.

"I've wanted to understand the 'world' of cocaine ever since I lost one of my chefs at my flagship restaurant in Chelsea,” he said. “I wanted to learn why it's becoming such an epidemic not just globally but specifically in the culinary world."

Tom Kerridge 

TV star Tom Kerridge has spoken openly about his battle with the booze.

Now teetotal, the Michelin-starred chef shed 12 stone after ditching the bottle following a 40th birthday blowout when, he says, “I thought I'd have a drink… and that turned into a five-day bender.”

Now 49, he has said he will never be able to drink sensibly, having consumed a lifetime’s booze in his early years.  

Speaking to the Stompcast podcast, Tom said: “The way I view it is that if you live to 75 years old, you’ve got that amount of booze that you can drink until you’re 75 – I did it all by the age of 40.

“Approaching my 40th birthday I thought "I’ve got to make a change here, because if I don’t I won’t make 50.”

Admitting he misses booze he said: “Sometimes I feel that I’ve let myself down that I can’t enjoy a glass of wine on holiday, or a gin and tonic watching the sunset, or a beer with the boys at football.”

But he added: “I know there’s no such thing as a glass of wine or a beer – there never was, it was always about this release of chaos and mayhem.” 

He told Radio 4's Desert Island Discs: "Alcohol had gained a grip. I have completely destroyed alcohol for myself. I’m untrustworthy with it. I was drinking colossal amounts.

"I would always be the last man standing, driving it on. At the end of service I would order a pint of Negroni, just as a starter.  I miss that guy, I miss the chaos and I miss the fun – but I can’t. I worry about it all the time.”

Darren Simpson

The youngest ever recipient of the UK Chef of the Year Award, at 21, Darren worked in some of the most acclaimed restaurants in the world, including Le Gavroche, the River Cafe, and Sir Terence Conran’s Sartoria in Savile Row.

In 1999, he moved to Australia to be head chef of Aqua Luna Bar and Restaurant at Sydney’s East Circular Quay before opening the award-winning Italian La Sala in 2005.

He was also a well-known face on TV with regular appearances on Lifestyle Food Channel and on programmes such as Ready Steady Cook.

But the chef, from Northern Ireland, had a long battle with alcohol addiction and in 2017, he sought help at a rehab clinic near his home in Byron Bay.

Tragically,  in June 2017, just weeks after he left hospital, the life of the married father-of-two was tragically cut short by a heart attack. He was just 47.

Anthony Bourdain 

Known as the “original rock star” of the culinary world, Anthony had a glittering career on television and his own highly-acclaimed travel show, Parts Unknown, which showcased local cuisines.

But in 2018, while filming on location in France, he took his own life in his hotel bedroom, at the age of 61.

His body was found by fellow chef Eric Ripert, who was concerned his friend had not turned up for dinner or breakfast. 

The New Yorker, who worked as an executive chef in Manhattan before becoming a well-known author and host of TV food shows, frequently exposed the dark side of kitchen culture.

In Kitchen Confidential, his 2000 expose of the restaurant trade, he revealed had been addicted to heroin in his 20s and used to send a busboy to buy LSD, psilocybin, and cocaine. 

“The professional kitchen is the last refuge of the misfit. It’s a place for people with bad pasts to find a new family,” he wrote.

Despite kicking the drugs, he struggled with mental health issues and told his psychotherapist that something as small as eating a bad hamburger could send him into “a spiral of depression that can last for days”.

The TV star, who was dating Italian actress Asia Argento at the time of his death, was also a heavy drinker, once saying: “You see me drink myself stupid on my show all the time … When I indulge, I indulge.”

Chris Tonner

Chris Tonner appeared on Junior MasterChef in 1998 and used it as a springboard for his catering career. 

After a once-booming Aberdeen restaurant failed, he launched wedding catering firm Salt And Sauce which went under in 2019, allegedly leaving distraught couples out of pocket.

After the collapse of Tonner’s businesses and marriage, the Scottish Sun reported that Chris became addicted to heroin and crack cocaine. 

As his addiction spiralled, he was charged with a number of crimes – including stealing four bottles of perfume worth £90 and a Hyundai car amid his spiralling addiction. 

In February 2022, he pleaded guilty to stealing a car, driving without insurance, intent to commit theft, breaking into a car and shoplifting and was ordered to carry out 100 hours of community service and banned from driving for six months.

His solicitor Neil McRobert told The Sun: “Effectively his whole life just crashed and the way he dealt with it, unfortunately, was to start using heroin and crack cocaine.

"He says that he is absolutely disgusted by his offending. I recognise that the drug use that has taken over his life was the root cause of this."

Craig Strippel

Cornish chef Craig, whose career included a stint at Rick Stein’s fish restaurant in Padstow, has spoken out about the kitchen culture that leads many down the path of addiction.

As a young chef, working 60-80 hours a week, he became hooked on alcohol and said he would drink all day in the kitchen before finishing at 10.30pm and going on a bender. 

Offered a beer by colleagues when he first got in to work, at 11.30am, he told The Guardian he would ask for a pint of wine for the cooking, add a splash and drink the rest. 

After work he would meet mates in the bar of the hotel where he worked and carry on, occasionally taking drugs to sober him up so he could carry on. 

Eventually, it came to a head in the summer of 2018, when he almost took his own life.

“I got to the point in September when I honestly could not see a way out,” he says. “I went out drinking with my mates and I was saying to them, ‘Big party tonight because it is the last night I will drink.’”

After walking to the end of Albert Pier in Penzance, he says: “I stood there and I wanted to jump but my legs wouldn’t do it.

“A guy who was out fishing spotted me and shone a torchlight on me from his boat. He just kept the light on me, and I felt I couldn’t move.” 

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The fisherman called the lifeguard and Craig was eventually talked down, but left the restaurant trade soon after. 

The dad-of-three has now turned his life around with the help of charity Addaction and frequently runs marathons to raise awareness and funds for mental health charities.

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