WTVC Exclusive: Food Network Star Winner Jeff Mauro
Some ten weeks ago the nation watched footage of 15 wannabe TV chefs meeting on the steps of world famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood and each of us thought the same thing, which one is it? Well, two and a half months later the mystery is solved, Jeff Mauro is the latest winner of Food Network Star.
Throughout the competition Jeff’s warm personality and quick wit were his calling card. It was a gift that he rallied into a winning performance. His POV, the Sandwich King is one that is long over due. There are few things in life better than a well made sandwich. This may be the perfect vehicle for Jeff’s particular skill set but will a show about sandwiches go over?
That’s exactly what Steve Cavendish of the Chicago Tribune asked Jeff just a few weeks ago. His response? “A lot of people’s sandwiches these days come from fast food chains,” Mauro said. “It’s bad meat. It’s bad bread. It’s questionable vegetables. Why not bring this stuff home and teach you the fundamentals? How to braise. How to roast. Fry. Grill. All while having a between-two-hands delicious meal.”
So just what do we know about Jeff Mauro? This is what the Food Network site has to say, “After pursuing a career as a comedian in Los Angeles, Jeff switched gears to spend time doing what he loves most: cooking. His down-to-earth personality coupled with his comic relief make a great combo in the kitchen.”
Mauro’s stardom is no overnight success story. He’s been working towards this goal for seven years. That’s when he pulled up stakes and headed to LA to try and forge a new cooking show in his own image. He attended the Hollywood Kitchen Academy (which is now Le Cordon Bleu) and even came dangerously close to achieving his TV show after meetings with Spike, MTV and Comedy Central. But every time it looked like the door was opening it would close in his face.
“It was like, ‘it’s happening!’ And then L.A. was like, ‘Nope. It’s not happening. I’m Los Angeles, I win every time, you lose,'” he told Cavendish. Frustrated Mauro headed back to the Windy City where he became the private chef at a Chicago corporate headquarters of a large mortgage company. Three years later he sent an audition tape to Food Network Star.
“Jeff has the perfect mixture of strong culinary chops, a breakout personality, and boundless food passion – a true triple threat we value in our stars,” said Bob Tuschman, General Manager and Senior Vice President, Programming and Production, Food Network. “Jeff’s humor, warmth and smart ideas to make sandwiches into satisfying meals make him a perfect addition to join the Food Network family.”
After struggling in the beginning of the competition Jeff put it all together on episode five, the Fourth of July episode. He says, ” I pretty much maxed out my abilities and personality and it went over well. I felt like I can be big and huge but I don’t think I ever want to go bigger than this.”
Jeff credits Guy Fieri with pulling him aside and giving him great advice, “He was the only judge who was like I want to talk to you privately.” Fieri just told him matter-of-factly how to handle different situations and gave, “very sincere advice. Not only on camera. Off camera he was kind of like a buddy. That was helpful because there’s a separation between the the finalists and judges. They are proven and we are proving.”
Since Star wrapped in early June Jeff says he’s been living dual lives. One working his old job in Chicago and the other doing covert assignments as a celebrity chef. “Going to the Atlantic City Food & Wine Festival out there. Going to shoot my show which was obviously top secret. Shooting the finale which was top secret. Going and doing all of these things, in my mind, very large things then coming home and making a hundred point sandwiches.”
Jeff plans to stay in Chicago where he can spend time with his family, “My goal is to stay here always. That’s the beauty of it; I can go shoot a show every three or four weeks and not have to uproot my entire existence to New York or LA.” He then added, “And eventually shoot here when I’ve got a little clout, a little bargaining power.”
How closely does Sandwich King resemble the show you conceived seven years ago during your time in LA?
Chef Jeff and Ali? Very different; that was more of a party-based barbecue show where we would go to barbecues and record the hijinks, the people. I wanted to provide a younger, I don’t know a more irreverent, party-based ride to cooking on TV
As fun as that was it doesn’t have any legs. So it’s really different. I’m still myself. I might not be ripping from a bottle of Jack any more but it’s still me minus my other half, Ali and minus the party and all that.
Can you describe the elements of the perfect sandwich?
Well handled fresh bread. Not just a loaf of French bread that you get at the bakery that’s pretty. That’s taking that and taking it to the next level with buttering and griddling to temperature. You want to start with that. You want to make sure when you take your bites out from top to bottom there’s not a lot of resistance. If there is resistance it’s good resistance like crunch or a great chew or crispness. You know it’s all about paying attention to not only flavors but textures; I think that’s often overlooked in a sandwich.
My predictions – Susie gets a show on the Cooking Channel, Vic on Food Network. Whitney becomes a judge on Iron Chef/Chopped. The Sandwich King premieres this Sunday at 11:30AM on the Food Network and the King’s reign will like be a long one.
Drop back by the site tomorrow and check it out as another new Food Network star, Roger Mooking (Everyday Exotic on the Cooking Channel, Heat Seekers on the Food Network) answers 7 Questions.
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