Jeff Mauro loves sandwiches.
That's probably a good thing because as the corporate chef at Guaranteed Rate's Ravenswood offices, he's making a few hundred of them every day.
But could you base an entire TV show just around making sandwiches? The Food Network thought enough of the idea and Mauro to cast him in the seventh season of "Next Food Network Star," which premieres Sunday at 8 p.m.
"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."
And there can be little doubt that he knows his way around a sandwich. A chicken Vesuvio sub he made for The Stew was fantastic, piled high with mushrooms and peppers and even a few potato wedges.
This isn't Mauro's first stab at food television. Seven years ago he and his then-fiance moved to L.A. to pursue a cooking show. Having run a deli with his cousin just after graduating from Bradley, he tried to turn his theater and performing background into something that would play on the small screen. He did well enough to make a couple of pilots and get development meetings with Spike, MTV and Comedy Central.
In the meantime, he was formalizing his culinary education and finished top of his class at a yearlong program in Hollywood.
The TV side, however, wasn't going as well. "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 said.
So he and his wife, also a Chicago native, moved back home and Mauro traded his TV dream for a steady job and a new family. Fast forward three years and Mauro got the itch to try again. He filmed a tryout video, sent it in and quickly made it through the next round and into the cast of "NFNS." Though he wasn't in love with the reality TV aspect of the show, the chance to cook for his culinary hero Alton Brown and maybe get a show of his own was too much of a lure.
"Next Food Network Star" occupies an interesting niche. It's the network's highest rated show in spite of the fact that it's more about star-making than food. The winners have been both boom (Chicago's Hearty Boys, Guy Fieri) and bust (season 3 winner Amy Finley's show lasted just six episodes). And some losers, like Adam Gertler and Kelsey Nixon, have still gone on to get shows on the network.
"This competition can make or break you," he said. "It can give you just good exposure or it can make you a Guy Fieri."
Will Mauro be a star? Maybe, maybe not. We'll have to watch to find out. He does make a mean sandwich though.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times