The Sandwich King

ANYONE who’s tuned in to season seven of reality show Food Network Star (formerly known as The Next Food Network Star) would clearly see that Jeff Mauro’s love for sandwiches was going to take him far in the competition.

So it came as no surprise that his affable love of all things served between two slices of bread would be crowned champion of that season. His show on Food Network called Sandwich King is already into its fourth season.

Throughout the competition, Mauro was steadfast in his quest to create sandwiches and would classify any meal that can be hand-held (which included warps and vegetable cups) as a sandwich!

In fact, in his show, he emphasised that “you can make any meal into a sandwich and any sandwich into a meal”.

During a special session with the media organised by Food Network recently, Mauro taught us how to prepared a beef brisket sandwich with a carrot, dried cranberry and pecan coleslaw on the side.

He said that he has so far come up with 7,896 types of sandwiches.

“There is no shortage of sandwiches and no shortage of requests.” Mauro always looks for inspiration everywhere he goes, whether it is from the cuisine he has tasted or the ingredients he comes across.

He really loved our rendang and said he would try out more street food in Jalan Alor while he was in Kuala Lumpur.

Mauro has worked as a line cook, caterer and chef instructor after he graduated from California’s Hollywood Kitchen Academy. He had even pursued a career as an entertainer and comedian in Los Angeles.

Mauro took the reality TV routine to get his first TV show. “That is the beauty of reality television, especially in this day and age. For a lot of avenues such as singing, dancing, cooking, art and even hair-dressing, it is a job interview,” he said. “I took the other avenues for many years.

I moved my family to Los Angeles for many years, made my own pilot, produced my own videos on YouTube to try and get a cooking show.

“I got close but never got there. At the back of my mind, I knew that there was a Food Network Star. If you do well on the show, you will get your own show. So it was a no-brainer for me.”

Mauro is an excellent cook and there is more to him as a chef than just sandwiches. But by marketing himself as a sandwich king – he has been making sandwiches professionally for the past 13 years – during the competition and after, Mauro basically stood out from the crowd.

“I knew that nobody else had cornered that market and I’d hoped that when I kept auditioning, nobody would steal my idea. That was the biggest part of winning the show – it was having a point of view and focus.”

Since participants had to undergo different challenges each week, Mauro’s strong point of view helped.

He sulked quite a bit because he was not picked to compete in season six of The Next Food Network Star but watched it to prepare for the following season.

He eventually befriended the season six champion Aarti Sequeira of Aarti Party fame.

“She was always smiling on the show and is a warm person. She remains my idol. I spoke to her on Facebook just this morning.”

Mauro plans to open his own sandwich shop in Chicago which will serve six to eight types of sandwiches with a variety of side orders.

“The problem with a lot of sandwich shops is that they will have one great sandwich while the others are just fodder. My focus will be six sandwiches but they will be the best six sandwiches on the planet.”

For a guy who has created thousands of sandwiches, what is a “comfort” sandwich for him?

“Turkey, Swiss cheese between good white bread with a little honey mustard. I probably eat that five times a week. It is all the stuff that I have and it takes no cooking.”

We will be able to catch the third season of Sandwich King soon as Mauro has already finished shooting for the fourth season. He has also shot for another series called $24 in 24 in which he travels to various cities in the US and has only US$24 (RM75) to spend on breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack at the eateries there.

So how many more seasons is Sandwich King good for?

“[At least ] 100! Hopefully, we get picked up for a fifth season in September. That is 39 recipes per season and we have reached almost 160 recipes. I already have my recipes listed out.

“I would say there’s no end to the amount of food. There is always a new food to discover and there is always a way to make a new sandwich out of it.”

Fans can also look out for his cookbook scheduled to come out at the end of this year.

Sandwich King season 3 premieres today at 8pm on Food Network Asia (Astro B.yond HD Channel 727)