A stoush has erupted between the publisher of celebrity chef Jock Zonfrillo’s memoir, Simon & Schuster, and Nine, the publisher of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age.
A widely circulated cover story published in Good Weekend magazine on Saturday suggested there were contradictions between Zonfrillo’s recollections of his time spent with celebrated British chef Marco Pierre White in London in the 1990s and those of White.
Zonfrillo, who became a household name in 2019 when he joined the judging panel of Network Ten’s MasterChef Australia, writes in his memoir, Last Shot, that White helped him find accommodation in 1994 when he was a homeless employee at White’s restaurant at the Hyde Park Hotel.
Zonfrillo also writes in his memoir that White was aware of his heroin addiction at the time.
Interviewed by Good Weekend, White said he does not remember several of the incidents recounted by Zonfrillo and disputed others, claiming “I never saw much of [Zonfrillo]”.
In a statement sent to Guardian Australia late on Monday, Simon & Schuster said Zonfrillo stood by his story.
“This is the story of my life. I’ve lived every minute of it, the highs and lows, and I stand by it,” he said.
“There’s no question that some of my book makes me look pretty unsavoury at the best of times.
“I carry the shame from those years, not pride, and it was a big obstacle for me to overcome when writing this book.”
On Tuesday, Simon & Schuster’s managing director Dan Ruffino, quoted in Nine media, said the publisher would consider taking legal action against Nine “if we feel our sales prospects have been harmed by this article”.
In its statement to Guardian Australia, Simon & Schuster said it stood by Zonfrillo’s book “as the personal recollections of one of Australia’s pre-eminent chefs”.
“We take issue with a number of statements mentioned in the article,” the statement said.
“There are factual errors in the piece which we are collating and will be sending to the [Good Weekend] editor Katrina Strickland.”
Strickland told Guardian Australia she was confident of her publication’s fact checking processes.
“Tim Elliott is a highly respected feature writer,” she said.
“Good Weekend stands by Tim and the story.”
The Simon & Schuster statement went on to say that Zonfrillo’s story of his time with White had been published in White’s own memoir.
“Marco Pierre White’s first meeting with Zonfrillo, helping him find accommodation when he was homeless and being aware of his drug addiction are all recounted by Zonfrillo and published in Marco Pierre White’s own memoir,” the statement said.
Guardian Australia has seen an image of the excerpt from the 25th anniversary of White’s 1990 cookbook/autobiography, White Heat, which was published in 2015. In it, the White/Zonfrillo relationship is told via a third party contributor to the edition, the British food writer James Steen.
“Marco gave me a job and arranged for me to get accommodation when he found out I was sleeping in the changing room because I had no money,” Zonfrillo is quoted by Steen in the updated edition, published in 2015.
“For a period I was addicted to heroin. Marco knew it but it wasn’t discussed. Though he was like a father to me he didn’t make me feel like a leper.”
Guardian Australia has sought comment from White through his website and from Steen via his literary agent Marsh Agency.
Strickland said Zonfrillo’s comments to Steen did not contradict what White said on the record in the Good Weekend piece.
“One is Zonfrillo’s recollections of events – which have also been recounted in his own book and in the GW story. The other is White’s,” she said.
Simon & Schuster, via Zonfrillo’s publicist Brendan Fredericks, told Guardian Australia on Tuesday: “We have no further comment at this time.”