You know Geoffrey, Jeff, Katie, Marcela and Sunny from their other adventures on Food Network and FoodNetwork.com, but for the first time last Saturday, you watched them come together on their brand-new series, The Kitchen (airing Saturdays at 11am/10c). Katie and Geoffrey cooked alongside each other, Sunny showed off her version of crepes, and the group dished about the latest trends and topics in everyone’s favorite room of the house: the kitchen. Before the season gets too far underway, however, FN Dish wants fans to get to know each of the co-hosts a bit better, so we’ll be sharing exclusive interviews with all five chefs every day this week. Read on below to learn more about Sandwich King Jeff Mauro, and keep checking back to hear from Katie, Marcela and Sunny.
Tell us your culinary point of view in the kitchen in a few sentences.
Jeff Mauro: I’m a true dad home cook: I do it, I live it, and I want to be able to provide my family with the freshest, healthiest food in all shapes and sizes and forms.
Why did you want to get involved in The Kitchen?
JM: Other than being on Food Network, my dream was to have a talk show format where I can improvise, be funny and cook all at the same time, while interacting with other people, so to me it’s a dream come true.
What will you bring to The Kitchen? What’s your perspective?
JM: I think I’m going to bring just kind of a normal dad, family man that cooks for his family four or five nights a week. I want to show some easy ways to make truly great food for the masses — and throw as many sandwiches in there as I can, of course.
On a normal night, what are you cooking for your family?
JM: Especially now that it’s winter, we love stews and soups. We’ve been really into spaghetti squash lately; it’s a healthy alternative to pasta on a weeknight. I’ve been trying to save all the pasta for weekends. So anything that I can kind of start making at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, so it’ll be ready and perfect by 5:30 when my son gets home from school.
Do you ever use recipes when you cook something new, or do you just wing it? And if you do use recipes, what kinds of dishes are they for? What are you looking up?
JM: I never use recipes. I tend to screw it up when I use recipes. I love just kind of reading through a recipe and then maybe just getting inspired and then using my own instincts and training and my knowledge of the fundamentals of cooking to execute it.
What’s your favorite cookbook?
JM: It’s The Science of Good Cooking: Master 50 Simple Concepts to Enjoy a Lifetime of Success in the Kitchen … which came out last year — a year and a half ago — and … to me he’s a true food scientist, and just reading about the chemistry of flavor and how you can heighten your food by adding some of this and some of that and why when it comes together, it makes everything taste better. To me that’s something they don’t really teach you in culinary school and something that maybe throughout life you don’t know the biology and the chemistry behind great food, and it’s very intriguing. And the recipes are great.
Who’s the one Food Network talent you’d most like to face off against in a friendly cook-off?
JM: Anne Burrell. [I’m] calling her out. Because for Food Network Star, Season 7, the season I was in, I cooked for her once, and I sweat in her food directly, and I got called out on it. So I’ve always wanted to redeem myself and show her that I’m just not a sweaty pig that sweats in people’s food — and show her that I can cook. She was one of the judges at the South Beach [Wine and Food Festival] Burger Bash, which I won last year, so she did help me. She voted for my burger, thank God, but I just want to redeem myself.
There’s no question you’re the Sandwich King, but your range in the kitchen covers so much more than bread, meat and cheese. What are a few of your other favorite dishes?
JM: All of the flavors from a classic Italian Chicago sandwich, but done with leftover rice. That is, like, the most-unused leftover ingredient, I think …. Everybody’s got it, and it sits there until it’s as hard as masonry, and nobody ever uses it. So what inspired [this recipe] is [the question], “What can I do with that?” Fortify it, but still rehydrate it without just throwing it in a soup or dumping a bunch of stock in there.
Maybe lunch I have a sandwich, but we don’t eat sandwiches every night. I don’t think anybody can. I love one-pot meals in a Dutch oven, whether it’s a braised meat. We love stews, like I mentioned, soups, hearty soups. And we eat a lot of salads, too, because it’s the yang to my sandwich yin. Life’s about balance.
Would you say that Chicago is your favorite food city?
JM: Yes, and I think rightfully so. I think it’s at a renaissance right now. New York, I’m here once, twice a month, so I am constantly eating out here, and I rarely have a bad meal. I always have exceptional food in New York — I love it — but it’s nice that we’re getting a little love now. We’re kind of in this renaissance. And it’s becoming not only a world-class culinary food town but a destination for a lot of people …. And it’s accessible. It’s still hard to get a lot of tables and get last-minute reservations, but it’s just so much fun to eat there because it feels more accessible than New York.
When fans were introduced to you on Food Network Star, Season 7, they learned that you were once a comedian. Do you have any (appropriate) food jokes to share?
JM: It was the first joke I ever wrote. I was in third grade, and I will tell it to you right now. What do you call a spinning potato? A ro-tato.
Rapid fire: Think fast!
Ketchup, mustard or mayonnaise? Mustard
Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate
Bagels or doughnuts? Bagels
Cream cheese or butter? Butter
Coffee or tea? Coffee
French fries or onion rings? French fries
Burgers or hot dogs? Burgers
White meat or dark? Dark
Cake or pie? Cake
Beer or wine? Both
Tune in to The Kitchen every Saturday at 11am/10c.