'Food Network Star': A king is crowned
We already knew Jeff Mauro was the self-appointed Sandwich King. Now he's Food Network's newest star.
The one-time comedian and all-the-time entertainer won the network's "Food Network Star" competition
Sunday night, beating 14 competitors (including three from Southern California) all bidding for the chance to have their own show on the channel.
Perhaps even more surprisingly: Mauro, 32, of Elmwood Park, Ill., beat out Susie Jimenez to get it.
Susie Jimenez had a rocky start in the competition but her food made the judges want more. As she gained more confidence she made the judges smile as well, especially when she opened up about her family's classic immigrant story: Her father came from Mexico to give his children a better life in America, and lovingly taught his daughter many of the Latin recipes that she used to wow the judges.
"Maybe Penny would have been an easier person to go up against," Mauro joked this morning during a media conference call, referring to the Los Angeles woman's divisive personality during the competition.
But in the end, Mauro's personality and crystal-clear show concept won out. He walked into the competition with the idea for a show dedicated to sandwiches, and it carried him to the finish line. The judges were tough on Jeff at times, challenging him to drop the overdone comedy schtick, which made him sometimes come off like a used-car salesman, and instead allow his genuinely funny personality and comedic timing gently rise to the surface. (His "subtle sexiness," as one of the judges called it, didn't hurt either.)
Jeff said Monday morning that he's still trying to let it all sink in. He peppered our conversation with a few expletives and made a note to himself that he's going to have to clean up his act. (Food Network is not the place for bad words!)
He said his father, Gus -- the original sandwich king -- is overwhelmed with pride at his son's accomplishment. Although the Mauro family grew up in Chicago, where sports and a tough-guy demeanor were commonplace, Gus recognized that his son was destined for something else and always encouraged him. "Instead of being like, 'I want you to box'...my dad was so happy when he saw me on stage," Mauro said.
If all goes well, expect to see Gus, and the rest of Mauro's clan -- including a wing that hails from Kentucky -- on future shows.
Jeff said he believed his comedy background and stabs at entertainment helped him. Humor always helps, and it made him a little more comfortable. But mostly, it allowed him to rebound quickly from criticism and rejection, which were an inevitable part of this competition.
"I still trusted in my humor and my abilities," he said. "I always put myself out there, I had more
practice at performing and putting myself out there and being rejected -- a lot."
He said he believes that some people were badly bruised by the competition because they were trying to be someone other than themselves. "I don't think people are happy with themselves, or they don't trust in their personalities," he said.
I've long been in line for Mauro's ride -- turning every meal into a sandwich, and every sandwich into a meal. It's such an appealing concept, it's definitely going on the DVR. What do you think?
Twitter / renelynch
Photo: Food Network