Review: Sandwich King with Jeff Mauro
Last week the world (OK the food geek world) watched as Jeff Mauro was anointed the newest Food Network Star after a topsy-turvey 10 weeks of some of the craziest (see Penny Davidi) TV on record. But now the reality show is over and reality begins. It’s time to take a look at the Sandwich King.
Star premieres have been a mixed bag. Party Time with the Hearty Boys and The Gourmet Next Door didn’t excite viewers therefore neither is still around except in occasional reruns. Guys Big Bite, $10 Dinners and Aarti Party were all well received and all three are still going strong. Then there is Big Daddy’s House.
Let’s be honest, the first episode of Big Daddy’s House was not very good. It featured a gaggle of recycled recipes from Food Network’s early years as opposed to the inventive recipes that were host Aaron McCargo Jr.’s signature during the contest. Speaking of Aaron, throughout the competition he was repeatedly reminded to stop mumbling and to stop turning his back to the camera. For the pilot he still had not mastered his lessons. Though the show has improved a little over the years it still isn’t on many people’s list of favorites.
That isn’t a problem for Mauro as he’s a natural born entertainer. Though he may not have the culinary skills of other season seven contestants like Whitney Chen or Justin Balmes at the same time he’s no Chris Nirschel. Jeff’s cooking prowess is more than adequate for this show as he has ample technical proficiency to go with his creative flair.
Here’s how Food Network described the Sandwich King in a press release from Monday:
On his new daytime show, Mauro broadens his inspired sandwich resume as he takes Food Network viewers on a delicious odyssey, preparing dishes inspired from some of his favorite local restaurants around his hometown of Chicago, such as the Peoria Packing Butcher Shop and the Isaacson & Stein Fish Market. Whether he is satisfying his cravings for a Chicken Steakhouse Sandwich served on a crusty buttered French bread, a Chicken Vesuvio Sandwich on a French roll with peas, mushrooms and more, or a pressed panini taken to the next level – a Mortadella and Fig Focaccianini; Jeff adds his own twist to each dish – delicious proof that a sandwich is so much more than the sum of its parts.
So there’s the set-up now let’s take a look at the execution.
The first thing that jumps out is that parts of the show were shot on location at a beef stand in Chicago, Johnnie’s Beef. That’s a nice touch; it was very Triple D-ish. These Star premieres are usually done on the cheap. Not so here. In fact, there’s a great polish on the episode. The camera work is very interesting with an unconventional angle here or there.
Jeff for his part is just what we came to expect during Star – warm and energetic. He threw in the requisite stories that Bob and Susie love so much. He also demonstrated a little food knowledge during his presentation. He commanded the camera. Though there were no full on belly laughs, Jeff did manage a handful of one-liners worthy of a chortle.
For a first episode it was extremely good. I especially like how Jeff showed the viewer how to make both a classic recipe and one that was new and cutting edge. If Food Network isn’t careful they may just have a hit on their hands.
Among the recipes in episode one is a homemade giardinara to go with the Chicago style Italian beef sandwich that Jeff did in the Comedy Roast episode. But the shining star was the Mortadella and Fig Focaccianini. I mean come on, figs and a fatty pork press meat? How do you not love that? The recipe for that bad boy is below or you can get all of the recipes from the premiere of Sandwich King HERE. Be sure to check out my interview with Jeff HERE.
|Mortadella and Fig Focaccianini||
- FIG SPREAD:
- 2 cups dried figs, stems removed and halved
- 3/4 cups balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- SANDWICH BUILD:
- 4 squares focaccia bread
- 8 ounces Italian sharp cheese, such as Fontinella, or asiago, sliced
- 1 pound mortadella, thinly sliced
- Olive oil, for brushing
- FOR THE FIG SPREAD:
- Bring the figs, 1 cup water, balsamic and sugar to a simmer in a small pot.
- Simmer until the figs rehydrate and the liquid reduces and thickens, about 15 minutes. Let cool. Once cool, place in a food processor and puree until smooth, 20 to 30 seconds.
- FOR THE SANDWICH BUILD:
- Preheat a griddle over medium-low heat or heat a panini press.
- Slice 1 focaccia square in half. Place a thin layer of the fig spread on the inside of both halves.
- Place a couple slices of cheese on the bottom, and then place 4 ounces mortadella on top.
- Close and lightly brush the bread with olive oil. Griddle the sandwich until golden and warm, about 4 minutes a side.
- Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
- Grab daintily with one hand and bite like a maniac.