An Interview With Jeff Mauro, The Winner Of the Food Network's Next Food Star!
Living in Elmwood Park and working in Chicago, how has the local cuisine - whether it be Italian or gourmet sandwiches - influenced you in your cooking?
Since I am Italian-American, and living around my people for the majority of my life, it has been an integral part of my culinary upbringing. Elmwood Park and the surrounding neighborhoods are a culinary Mecca for sandwiches (Johnnie's, Alpine, Connie’s) and growing up we were never far from places to go out and grab a quick sandwich. Little did I know, when I moved to L.A. for a couple years, how much I took my hometown selection of quality sandwiches for granted.
What are some of your favorite Chicago restaurants, bars, or attractions? Any secret holes-in-the-wall you can tell us about?
There is a great new Pho and Banh Mi place in Forest Park on Madison Street called SaiGon Pho. Fresh bread, unctuous ingredients, and affordable.
You seem like an all-around family guy. How does your family story factor into your career? What did they teach you about passion and drive?
Two things made this all possible: my drive and my wife. Without her support and encouragement, I would not have done this. Before I committed to over two months of limited contact from my family, she urged me to think about it: A) Do I want to leave my family for that long? B) Are you prepared for the life change if you win, because you have a really good shot of winning? and C) She says “If you go and leave us with bills, blizzards and bawling babies, YOU BETTER DAMN WIN. So to answer your question, they are everything to me. I live within a block of eleven first cousins and uncles. My folks, sisters, cousins and grandma all live within a one-mile radius. They are my rock and propelled me throughout the competition.
How has your experience with stand-up comedy affected where you are today? Do you want to be associated with comedy at the Food Network?
All my years doing standup, improv, sketch comedy and performing in general have only helped prepare me for the variety of audiences and scenarios in the food world. It also made me accustomed to criticism and rejection - two of the constant staples of the comedy world. I would love to be known as the funniest guy on the Food Network! Hey, I may not be the highest-end chef on the Food Network, but I can be the funniest.
What were your feelings going into the finale of the show, and how did you deal with the nerves? Were you surprised when they said your name?
Yes, I knew I had a good shot, but at that moment, you never know fully.
Your new show entitled Sandwich King debuted on August 21st. What can we expect?
An irreverent and comical exploration of all things handheld and edible. It will be a hybrid of a stand-and-stir cooking show and an out-in-the-field interview show where I source out and find inspirations for what I am cooking that day.
As the Sandwich King, you had to know this one was coming: What is your favorite sandwich?
A hand cut Pastrami on Rye with deli mustard from Langer’s in Los Angeles.
Do you have any must-have or must-not-have ingredients?
Dijon, a great emulsifier and zing-enhancer. Cottage Cheese or canned tuna fish are a MUST NOT.
What’s an easy sandwich that you can grab and go with? Can you share some of your favorite recipes with us?
My Mortadella and Fig Focaccianini is great for adults and kids. It’s instantly familiar and sweet, but challenging enough to make you feel special when eating it. Travels well, too!
And lastly, since we’re a recipe and cooking site, do you have any easy tips for us home chefs?
When making a sandwich, source out good ingredients and treat them well, focusing on the “bite down”; the textures and flavors your mouth and teeth encounter on the way down. Always handle your bread right. Don’t just throw a roll in the oven to reactivate it. Split it, butter it, and griddle it. Make it softer but with a golden interior. Your mouth will thank you.
We’re very excited to watch your show on the Food Network! Best of luck in all your future endeavors!
Thanks for the opportunity! GO BEARS!
Watch Jeff Mauro wax comedic and create the perfect sandwich every Sunday at 11:30am Eastern Time! To learn more, visit the Food Network website.