Review: Sandwich King with Jeff Mauro

Jeff Mauro Food Network StarLast 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
Recipe Type: Sandwich
Author: Jeff Mauro
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 55 mins
Total time: 1 hour 5 mins
Serves: 4
From the premiere of Sandwich King.

  • 2 cups dried figs, stems removed and halved
  • 3/4 cups balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • 4 squares focaccia bread
  • 8 ounces Italian sharp cheese, such as Fontinella, or asiago, sliced
  • 1 pound mortadella, thinly sliced
  • Olive oil, for brushing

  1. Bring the figs, 1 cup water, balsamic and sugar to a simmer in a small pot.
  2. 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.

  1. Preheat a griddle over medium-low heat or heat a panini press.
  2. Slice 1 focaccia square in half. Place a thin layer of the fig spread on the inside of both halves.
  3. Place a couple slices of cheese on the bottom, and then place 4 ounces mortadella on top.
  4. Close and lightly brush the bread with olive oil. Griddle the sandwich until golden and warm, about 4 minutes a side.
  5. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
  6. Grab daintily with one hand and bite like a maniac.

ICA: Flay vs. Tsai

Iron Chef America

Way back in 2005 there was an Iron Chef battle with the secret ingredient of duck.  The battle was between Iron Chef Bobby Flay and former Food Network chef Ming Tsai.  Flay of course has become famous from his innovative approach to Southwestern cuisine and Tsai is well known for the Asian fusion he calls East Meets West.  The judges for this epic match were Jeffrey Steingarten, Ted Allen and Vishakha Desai.

I bring this up for two reasons.  First off, the Network is rebroadcasting this classic battle from the first full season of Iron Chef: America on November 4th at 8:00 PM ET/PT and again on November 5th at 3:00 AM ET/PT.  B) Chef Tsai is currently a competitor on the third season of The Next Iron Chef.

Hmm, very curious that they choose to pull this out of the moth balls at this time.  They haven’t re-aired any other episodes matching contestants from this year’s NIC, namely Cat Cora vs. Mary Dumont (2007) nor Morimoto vs. Maneet Chauhan from earlier this year.  Is FN trying to get viewers used to the sight of Chef Tsai in Kitchen Stadium or is it just a clever ruse to make everyone think that Tsai is the NIC winner when actually it is someone else?

The only thing I can reveal is the winner of Flay vs. Tsai:

Las Paletas on Throwdown

Originally posted on August 13, 2008.

Tonight Bobby Flay was in my old stopping grounds of Nashville, TN for a frigid Throwdown.  Paletas is the Spanish word for ice pops.  Las Paletas specializes in these frozen treats and is owned by sisters Irma and Norma Paz.  I once asked Bobby what his guilty pleasure was and said, “Ice cream.”  Talk about having your Paletas and eating it too.

Las Paletas on WannabeTVchef.comAlthough Las Paletas wasn’t there when I lived in Nashvegas I know exactly where it its.  I used to work at a bakery right across the street and some good friends of mine used to live about two blocks away.  It is in one of those neighborhoods that was being rescued from the drug dealers and prostitutes.  The reclamation was well under way when I moved ten years ago so I can only imagine that the neighborhood is glorious now.  The episode was filmed at Fido in nearby Hillsboro Village which seperates the glitz of Music Row from the pomp of Vanderbilt University.

Las Paletas is all the rage in Music City these days.  Here are a few reviews I found:

  • There should be a 12-step program for those of us recovering from Las Paletas addictions. I’m not sure how I lived here nearly five years and never found this place until I recently drove by and noticed the quirky architecture of the building that houses Las Paletas. The building gives you an idea of what you’re in for once you go in because these are no ordinary popsicles. They are amazingly fresh, and the assortment of flavors can be mind-bogglingly strange but wonderful. All of my experiences at Las Paletas have been great.
  • You just don’t find a better popsicle. Period. Whether it’s traditional cookies n’ cream or the exotic Chocolate Wasabi, it’s all good! And at just $2.50 a pop, who can resist? Seriously, awesome. Period.
  • My boyfriend swears by the hibiscus and the Mexican caramel; I prefer the basil and mixed berry varieties. And all of the fruit pops are light, delicate, and delicious, with big chunks of fresh fruit.

So the next time business or leisure takes you to Nashville venture a little south of town and visit the sisters at Las Paletas Gourmet Popsicles at 2907 12th Ave S.  They’re good enough to take Bobby Flay in a Throwdown.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up


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