Jock Zonfrillo’s widow Lauren Fried has reacted to the new MasterChef Australia line-up following Melissa Leong’s exit from the Channel Ten cooking series.
The upcoming sixteenth season will see three new judges – series alum Poh Ling Yeow, Michelin-star chef Jean-Christophe Novelli and food critic Sofia Levin – join returning host Andy Allen.
Following the announcement, Fried took to Instagram to say Zonfrillo would be ‘very happy’ with the new line-up – which no longer features Leong.
Her remark has sparked speculation that Zonfrillo, who died on April 30 of natural causes at the age of 46, did not get along with Leong behind the scenes.
In a lengthy post, Fried gushed about Allen returning to the franchise and congratulated Ling Yeow and Novelli on their new roles, but in a somewhat telling move failed to mention Leong’s departure or her four years on the show.
‘This would make Jock immensely happy – @andyallencooks unexpectedly came into our life four years ago. He quickly became a best mate to Jock, shared a passion for food and fun, and was someone who cared deeply for our family,’ she began.
Jock Zonfrillo’s widow Lauren Fried (pictured together) has reacted to the new MasterChef Australia line-up following Melissa Leong’s exit from the Channel Ten cooking series
Fried said Zonfrillo would be ‘very happy’ with the line-up, which no longer features Leong. Her remark has sparked speculation that Zonfrillo, who died on April 30 of natural causes at the age of 46, did not get along with Leong behind the scenes. (Pictured: the MasterChef 2024 line-up, from left: Jean-Christophe Novelli, Andy Allen, Poh Ling Yeow and Sofia Levin)
‘Andy walked back into the MasterChef Kitchen to film his segment for Jock’s tribute show seven months ago, literally only hours after I called him to tell him the news. He did that for Ava and I, for Jock, and as a gift for our little ones to watch in the future.’
She went on to say Zonfrillo would be ‘super proud’ to see Allen ‘heading back into the MasterChef kitchen now with three new talented and kind judges’.
Fried also appeared to take another dig at Leong, 42, when she said the new judges ‘respect the privilege of being part of an extraordinary show’.
‘This is a group of people who respect the privilege of being part of such an extraordinary show. They know they’re stronger together than as individuals, and they want to nurture contestants in turning their dream of food as a career into reality,’ she said.
‘You all have my absolute support – all I ask is that you continue to take the p**s out of Andy, make him coffees that are so strong he walks onto set shaking, take him for a round of golf to let off some steam, and that you beat him in any cook-offs.’
Fried concluded: ‘Let’s make 2024 the best season of @masterchefau yet – get to know the judges, support the contestants, and keep cooking!’
The announcement for the new line-up follows rumours of tension between the judges.
Eyebrows were raised when Leong failed to take part in The Sunday Project’s moving tribute to Zonfrillo a week after his shock death at age 46.
Fried gushed about Allen returning to the franchise and congratulated Ling Yeow and Novelli on their new roles, but in a somewhat telling move failed to mention Leong’s departure
Allen and Zonfrillo formed a solid friendship after joining forces on MasterChef four years ago
Allen and renowned chefs Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White and Curtis Stone all shared their memories in the heartbreaking special.
Conspicuously missing was Leong, who did not appear in the program.
‘There was a very emotional tribute from Andy on The Project and it was surprising Melissa wasn’t there sitting beside him,’ an insider tells Daily Mail Australia.
‘You would have thought they would have taken on the media together. Especially since the company line was that they were all best friends.
‘It was pretty strange that Melissa went to ground during this time and yet pretty smart to keep her decision to leave the program until now.’
A few weeks after The Project special, Leong explained that the grieving process is a quiet one for her, after she was criticised for not taking part in a special tribute to late co-star.
‘We all deal with loss differently, and we need to honour that,’ she wrote in a column for Stellar magazine.
‘Some people need to talk in order to process emotions, while other take more time to find the words, if they can at all,’ she continued.
‘Some people need to be with people, while others need time alone to stare at a wall, clean incessantly or sleep.
The new line-up follows rumours of tensions between Andy, Melissa and the late Jock
‘There is no right or wrong way to be in these moments, just what is true to you.’
Leong’s absence from the special also raised eyebrows with fans of the cooking show.
‘Is it weird that Melissa isn’t part of this?’ asked one person on Twitter, with several others replying.
‘It is a bit, yeah…’ agreed one person, but others felt differently.
‘No? Everyone grieves differently. It might be still too soon for her to speak/open up. I hope she’s okay,’ said one.
Another wrote: ‘Andy was struggling enough. I’m thinking Melissa just couldn’t do it. Everybody grieves differently, and people only discuss that grief when they are ready (if ever).’
Someone else said: ‘Not at all. If you’re not in the space to do it, you cannot do it’, while one more agreed, ‘I don’t think she could do it. She was shattered.
‘Maybe she’s still processing it and it would be to much for her,’ yet another said.
Eyebrows were raised when Leong failed to take part in The Sunday Project’s moving tribute to Zonfrillo a week after his shock death at age 46
Leong’s departure from the cooking show was announced on Monday – just a day before Channel Ten unveiled its 2024 programming at its Upfronts presentation.
She will be fronting a MasterChef spin-off series called Dessert Masters.
Popular judge Zonfrillo died in his hotel room at Zagame’s House on Lygon Street in Carlton, Melbourne.
He was found by police at about 2am on Monday, May 1, the same day Channel Ten was meant to premiere the fifteenth season of MasterChef Australia.
He is survived by his third wife Lauren, and his four children: grown-up daughters Ava and Sophia from his first two marriages and Alfie and Isla with Lauren.
A few weeks after The Project special, Leong explained that the grieving process is a quiet one for her, after she was criticised for not taking part in a special tribute to late co-star