WTVC Exclusive: Food Network Star Winner Jeff Mauro

Food Network Star 7castSome 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.”

Jeff Mauro Food Network Star

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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Food Network Star 7 EP5 Recap

Diner’s, Drive-Ins and 4th of July

The finalists join Guy Fieri in an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Then they must throw a 4th of July Food Festival that celebrates all-American foods. But that’s not all. The festival will include the finalists’ first live cooking demo.

Justin Davis Next Food Network StarLast week we saw:

Justin B. went home despite Penny and Susie having much worse food.  Justin had plenty to say about that when we spoke last week.  Penny’s break with reality continues to grow.  I fear she may go postal if not booted soon.

1st Challenge – under the direction of season 2 winner Guy Fieri, the cast break up the duties of hosting an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.  With the law suit that has halted the filming of Trible D one has to wonder if Food Network doesn’t actually air this episode.

2nd Challenge – Cater an all-American classic Fourth of July picnic with their own twist on it.  Sponsored by MGD 64 which is not nearly as strange a challenge as making something savory with cereal.  Each also had to do a 3 minute live demo for the picnic guests.

After five episodes here are my thoughts on each contestant:

Alicia Sanchez – Eliminated week 3.

Chris Nirschel – Did much better last week but  I cannot see him surviving another week.  1st challenge was not very good.  2nd challenge it is apparent that math is not his strong suit.  His demo failed.  This may be Chris’ swan song.  The only thing that may save him is his food; it was pretty good.  But I don’t see how.  Every week he doesn’t get eliminated it feeds Alicia’s allegation that he was an actor hired for the show.

Howie Drummond – Eliminated week 1.

Jeff Mauro – He remains a great camera presence but there are still questions about his ability to cook.  1st challenge did not go well for him.  2nd challenge – demo was. . . interesting.  Judges liked it.  The food was pretty good.  Jeff is very likeable.  The jusges thought he had a top three performance, I do not agree.

Juba Kali – Eliminated week 2.

Justin Balmes – Eliminated week 4.

Justin Davis – Not a great week last week.  1st challenge – his potential showed but he needed a little prodding from Guy to pull it off.  2nd challenge – dressed like a – I don’t know what he was dressed as.  He was weird.   His food took forever to plate.  His food wasn’t good and his personality was all over the place.  He could be gone.

Jyll Everman – She is closing in on Orchid and Whitney.  1st challenge – started it off a little stiff but Guy was able to loosen her up.  2nd challenge – Jyll put Penny in her place but it was all for naught as Jyll speaks English but Penny only hears in psycho.  Her demo had good energy but had week spots as well.  Her conversation with the judges didn’t go any better than her Midwestern tacos did.  She took a step back.

Katy Clark – Eliminated week 2.

Mary Beth Albright – A great week last week.  1st challenge was a little week but not terrible.  2nd challenge – her demo was not bad and she got a few laughs.  The Chicken Lady, LOL!  Unfortunately her food didn’t go well.

Orchid Paulmeier –  She is still solid.  1st challenge was not great but not terrible. 2nd challenge – though she got brisket which is in her wheel house but it takes twice as long to cook as they have to prepare things.  Her demo was steeped in her lack of confidence but she pulled it off a bit.  Her food was not up to her expectations and the judges agreed.  Right now she is more Aria than Aarti.

Penny Davidi – She’s a nut job – that sums it up.  1st challenge was horrible.  2nd challenge – Fireworks between Jyll and Penny as Penny heard reason and truth and deflected it with a healthy dose of crazy.  For her demo she wore an outfit that looked like Uncle Sam threw up on her and that was the best it got.  Her demo hurt.  Her food went extremely well even though (in my opinion anyway) her lamb kabob and tabouli salad hardly reflected her assigned dish of sausage with peppers and pasta salad.

Susie Jimenez – Like Mary Beth she is a roller coaster and last week was pretty bad.  1st challenge was OK.  2nd challenge – She did a Mexican twist on July 4th – her energy was good.  Her food was very good.  She had a top 3 finish.

Vic “Vegas” Moea – Two good weeks in a row.  1st challenge was OK.  2nd challenge – Vic in drag for his demo.  Home run, nuf sed!  His food was good.  His entire 2nd challenge was great.  His lobster was the crowd favorite.  He had a top 3 finish.

Whitney Chen – Her abilities are the best package in the show but she’s losing energy and it’s effecting her confidence.  1st challenge she did great.  2nd challenge – she decided to reinvent baked beans as baked beans pie.  She demo’d her gourmet hot dog.  She cracked Guy up at Bobby’s expense.  A great demo.  Her food was amazing.  She put together the best performance of the week.  Not sure why she was not a top three finish.  It borders on suspicious.

Be sure to check out the WTVC Food Network Star Polls – six categories for contestants who best embody the spirit of former Food Network Star competitors HERE.  Don’t forget to follow the live Tweeting with Serena, Bobby, Giada, myself and who ever else stops by.  Last week we had drive-by Tweets from Whitney Chen, Orchid Paulmeier and Justin Davis.

Top Tweets:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/JeffMauro/status/87693260092477441″]

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/politikfix/status/87693652939386880″]

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/bweeks79/status/87695631342256128″]

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/ScottInOKC/status/87696377039171585″]

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/rabbijosh/status/87697313354612736″]


“In it to Win it” type quotes – 1.

Number of people crying – 4, Orchid (twice – but only a little each time and Penny for sympathy plus Jyll.

Number of WTF moments – 2 – Penny’s break with reality and Chris not being in the bottom three.

Who should win based on what we’ve seen so far: Whitney or Jyll

Who will win based on what we’ve seen in the past: Whitney, Jyll, Vic or Orchid

Winner(s) first week: 1st challenge: They didn’t name one. 2nd challenge: Susie.

The finalist(s) who will be going home is . . .

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Justin Davis.

Check out my mourning-after exit interview with each banished foodie HERE.  This week’s exit interview won’t happen until Tuesday because of the July 4th holiday.

Food Network Star Exit Interview: Justin Balmes

Four weeks in and we have seen some very talented cooks fall to the way side.  Unfortunately some mediocre cooks are still on the show.  It was a shame to Food Network Star Justin Balmeswatch Justin Balmes leave.  He was one of best pure cooks on the series.  Not just this year but all time.  It’s too bad the camera was not his friend because he had a lot to offer the Food Network audience.

After some fireworks in last week’s exit interview with Alicia Sanchez and her suggestion that poor performances were scripted I couldn’t wait to hear what Justin had to say about his time on Food Network Star.  Incidentally, Alicia has since removed her blog post about her experiences on the show and she was a no show for the live Tweeting where she had promised she would be “tweeting no holes barred for the rest of the competition.”  I guess the legal department gave her a call.

Justin did not make any of the suggestions of scripted outcomes that Alicia did but he was resolute about the food that got him eliminated.  He stated emphatically that he believed his food to be superior to other contestants who were retained, “send me home for my personality or my static camera work fine.  But as far as the food being critiqued that day for that to be my ultimate final straw I personally found to be ridiculous.  Somebody was turning out burnt mac and cheese or bubblegum lamb?  That’s borderline insulting.”  He also stated that other members of the cast and even the production crew were just as stunned as he was that it was him and not someone else going home at show’s end.

Not exactly fireworks but certainly good copy.  He also named his favorites to win it as Whitney “technically speaking” and Jeff “as far as passion and POV and staying true.”  Justin has more to say about all of this on his Facebook page.  It’s a good read.

You’re from Atlanta which is also the home town of Herb Mesa and Brianna Jenkins from last year’s cast.  Did you seek them out before going on the show?

No.  Actually I teach part-time down at Viking, down at the cooking school in Atlanta mid town and I think Brianna had done some work with them back in the day.  I gathered bits and pieces but as far as making any sort of real contact, no I didn’t.

Earlier this month you told the Atlanta Journal Constitution (HERE) that you, “wanted the home cook to really get to know their food.”  Can you explain what you mean?

Of course.  With my original show concept on Food Network Star I wanted to have episodes of my show based solely around single ingredients.  One episode would be just about beef.  It would show different cuts of beef, different cooking techniques, applications, pairings, etc.  Then do another show on different types of fish.  Do another show on vegetables or fruits that are in season.

I basically wanted the home viewer to connect with their food and not necessarily recite recipes and not cook-by-numbers but create their own.  They’re gaining this knowledge and understanding through getting to know their ingredients.

I further developed the concept as the show went on, sadly they did not show that, of sort of turning it into a kind of a micro Dirty Jobs where I would go to a ranch or a farm and work for the day.  You know, centered around whatever specific ingredient was special to that place.  And then from there kind of like a Follow That Food where I would go from there to like a local market and where that food arrived, that sense of community and people getting excited about it.  And then from there bringing it into a kitchen in front of a small studio audience.  Preparing it and really going into the back-story, explaining the hows and whys and what’s special about it.

I feel like with as many shows about “extreme foods” and cakes and sweets and this and that and the other well let’s get people in touch with real food and be socially responsible.  I feel like this show would be very much in line with that philosophy.

I thought you were one of the the best pure cooks on the show this year; is their a cookbook in your future?

Absolutely.  I’ve certainly got some ideas now; I’ve got a plethora of recipes that I could work with.  That’s definitely something that I’m very interested in doing.  Cooking is paramount for me and I also really enjoy writing.  I think that would be a natural combination there and ultimately a win.

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Be sure to stop by each Monday for my exclusive mourning after exit interviews with each exiled foodie (HERE). This year I have also added the WTVC (WannabeTVchef) Food Network Star Polls – six categories for contestants who best embody the spirit of former Food Network Star competitors. Be sure to check them out HERE. Click HERE to get all the news, gossip and snark on Food Network Star season 7.

Food Network Star 7 EP4

Cougar Town and Paula Deen

Melissa D’Arabian returns, but given her stellar performance last year they have moved her up in the series and changed her from dinner to hors d’oeuvres—but still there’s the Kellogg’s cereals. Elsewhere there’s a surprise guest and Paula Deen will no doubt expect everyone to deep fry something when they are asked to cater for the Cougar Town cast and crew.

Whitney Chen Next Food Network StarLast week we saw:

Man, last week was brutal to watch.  Chris’s performance was so painfully bad.  But as “luck” would have it he was on the winning team therefore safe from elimination.  Alicia was instead sent home even though her food didn’t appear to be as bad as Mary Beth’s or Susie’s.  Perhaps it was just her cumulative effort that did her in.

Interestingly, Alicia had suggested that contestant eliminations had more to do with a scripted timetable than performance but that post on her blog has since disappeared.  The allegations could be chalked up to sour grapes or business as usual at Food Network Star; take your pick.  It’s not like we haven’t witnessed a season with a seemingly preordained winner before.

First challenge:  Melissa d’ Arabian shows up to do the stupid cereal challenge.  Each contestant has to do a bite sized hors d’oeuvres with a cracker or breakfast cereal.

Second challenge:   They broke up into small groups to cook menus for different parts of the cast, staff and crew of the show Cougar Town with Paula Deen in there making sure everything gets butter.

After four episodes here are my thoughts on each contestant:

Alicia Sanchez – Eliminated week 3.

Chris Nirschel – Last week he had the second worst single performance in Food Network Star history (next of course to Aaron’s fiasco in Vegas).  I cannot see him surviving another week.  Especially in light of the revelation that he auditioned for the Real World.  Damn, Food Network, you owe us better than a dude who wasn’t good enough for Real World.  1st challenge – Chris pulled out the tired old corn flake crusted chicken.  Yawn.  His performance was good. He actually came in second in the challenge. #judgesfail 2nd challenge – apple cider, rosemary braised lamb.  Chris bailed Orchid out when she froze.  He can talk but his food didn’t go over.

Howie Drummond – Eliminated week 1.

Jeff Mauro – He kind of disappeared last week.  That’s the wrong time to slide backward.  1st challenge – started with the goal of making an Iron Chef laugh but instead he kind of made him nauseous.  No word on the food.  2nd challenge – Thai basil chicken but not wanting to grind his own chicken ops for tofu.  #tofufail He did a good job of selling his edible plastic but it was still edible plastic.  Presentation was great.  He made it doable, even Paula Deen did it.

Juba Kali – Eliminated week 2.

Justin Balmes – His food is amazing but his screen presence remains an issue.  1st challenge – again not a good presentation but better than usual and his food was good.  2nd challenge – Seared tuna with couscous came off under seasoned.  Presentation was good for him but not nearly good enough.  Cooking is all that has kept in the game, he may be done.

Justin Davis – After little face time the first two episodes he got a good deal in the second half last week.  He needs to make the best of it.  1st challenge – new POC – the flavor factory.  His presentation was going great until he said his food tasted like “human” and ended short it fell off the cliff.  Melissa said he was “lovely.”  2nd challenge – couldn’t find any of his ingredients for his dish.  Ended up doing poached salmon instead of salmon.  Good presentation but food was bland.

Jyll Everman – She is closing in on Orchid and Whitney.  1st challenge – Rice Crispies with crab worked and presentation was great.  Watch out Whitney.  Jyll for the win.  2nd challenge – Mixed green salad with cranberries and pumpkin seed.  Presentation was very good.  Her food wasn’t as well received.

Katy Clark – Eliminated week 2.

Mary Beth Albright – 1st week she was meh. 2nd she was good.  Last week she almost went home.  A human roller coaster.  1st challenge – no footage.  2nd challenge – teamed with Penny. LOL  Sweet and sour, buttermilk meatloaf.  Cast liked it.  Her presentation was pretty good and they liked her meatloaf a lot.  This was another up week for Mary Beth.  She was very likable and her food rocked.

Orchid Paulmeier –  She was fine last week but she is starting to remind viewers more of Aria and less of Aarti.  She needs to stay on her game or Jyll will pass her.  1st challenge – no footage.  2nd challenge – dirty rice and collard greens.  She was star struck and froze up.  Her food was amazing.

Penny Davidi – Here’s the juxtaposition with Penny – when she isn’t being a back biting snake she is pretty good.  Since she usually is being a back biting snake that probably means we are stuck with her until the first week of the August sweeps period.  Reports are that Penny is not pleased with the way the editing portrays her.  1st challenge – not a very good presentation and the judges cared for neither her food nor her. 2nd challenge – pair with Mary Beth.  Penny was spazing out during the shopping.  Mac and cheese which didn’t seem to go over well.  Presentation was great but not bad.  Penny’s mac and cheese was scorched.  There’s no fixing that.

Susie Jimenez – Like Mary Beth she is a roller coaster.  Good one week and bad the next.  1st challenge – her first presentation was a train wreck but her food was great.  2nd challenge – quinoa and chicken stuffed pepper with mole and cojita cheese.  When she asked Justin to get ten bags of quinoa he heard her say “two.”  Good presentation.  Judges liked her and her food.

Vic “Vegas” Moea – He had his first really good showing last week putting out the best dessert and having a good presentation.  Still a long way to go.  Vic just celebrated his birthday so be sure to stop by his Facebook page and give him a shout out.  1st challenge -scallop encrusted with pecan Sandy – they didn’t remark about the food but on camera was good.  2nd challenge – had to do vegetarian foods.  Had another great presentation.  They liked his food.  He’s coming on strong.

Whitney Chen – I feel that she’ll have to really screw up badly to not win this right now.  She has consistently been in the top 2 in each challenge.  Of course Kelsey Nixon dominated season 4 and still got sent packing so nothing is certain.  1st challenge – had to make something using a pop tart.  She made it work and her on camera was fair.  2nd challenge – Mediterranean platter of vegetables.  Her presentation was warm and friendly.  Paula Deen didn’t like her dish.  They liked her presentation.  She’s taken a step back this week.

Be sure to check out the WTVC Food Network Star Polls – six categories for contestants who best embody the spirit of former Food Network Star competitors HERE.  Don’t forget to follow the live Tweeting with Serena, Bobby, Giada, myself and who ever else stops by.  Last week we had drive-by Tweets from Whitney Chen, Orchid Paulmeier and Justin Davis.

Top Tweets:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/apowerfulbeat/status/85152525715644416″]

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/JessIzAwsum/status/85158073928400897″]

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/MBeach75/status/85158890727149568″]

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/apowerfulbeat/status/85166784587632640″]

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/kdzwierzynski/status/85168166380118017″]


“In it to Win it” Quotes – 1.

Number of people crying – 1 – Whitney.

Number of WTF moments – 1. When Jeff decided to use tofu.

Who should win based on what we’ve seen so far: Whitney

Who will win based on what we’ve seen in the past: Whitney

Winner(s) first week: 1st challenge: Jyll. 2nd challenge: Jeff, Orchid, Mary Beth, Vic and Susie.

The finalist(s) who will be going home is . . .

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Justin Balmes.

Check out my mourning-after exit interview with each banished foodie HERE.

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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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