Bread is Jeff Mauro’s religion. After winning season 7 of The Next Food Network Star last year, Mauro got his own show, The Sandwich King. Now the Chicagoan is adding to his plate Monday nights with $24 in 24. In each episode, the Chicagoan hits a locale with a teeny budget to find three square meals in towns across America.
We talked to Mauro, who is set to appear at the Burger Bash at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in February, about the best things he ever ate and other yummy stuff.
Is your show similar to Rachael Ray’s “$40 a Day?”
Well, I’m saving more than Rachael [laughs]. My thing is people think that it’s important to go to big, high-intensity cities like Los Angeles or New York to find the best sandwich shops and delis. But you can get great deals out there. My vision for the show was to find the underdogs, the little place that makes the greatest cheese steak. I’m urging viewers to not follow the herd and to go off the path.
How do you find the time to do two shows?
We just knock ’em out and get ’em done. It’s really not that tough. The hard part is preproduction: choosing locations, writing recipes, preparing meals. That qualifies as a job, right?
Do you also cook at home?
Oh yeah. Five days a week. I’ll eat out on weekends. I love it. We plan all our meals on Sunday. I have a 4-year-old who is starting to help. The other day he added some ingredients to a breadcrumb-coated pork chop.
Is he finicky?
Not so much. The kid eats broccoli so I’ll take it.
“The Next Food Network Star” seems intense. Was it?
It’s pretty terrible. There’s a stigma attached to reality TV, that it’s not real. But I’ll tell you that was real. You’re away from your family — no movies, no books, no magazines, no music. Nothing. You’re thrown into this world. I’m a grown-ass man not used to living with other people and here I am in a house sleeping on a bunk bed. But I was there to win. I was working toward the gold for the last 10 years. This was my chance, and I wasn’t going to blow it.
OK, let’s go back to sandwiches. Hot or cold?
It depends on the mood. I like cold for lunch, hot for dinner.
Your life is all about bread. What would you suggest to the carb-averse?
I’m a firm believer in carbs. I’m never gonna be as full without eating bread. That said, I’d say try lettuce cups or romaine [as a substitute]. Or maybe rice paper — like do spring rolls and put in a lot of fresh veggies.
What’s your overall favorite bread?
I love a good, crusty French baguette, with not too much resistance, and a golden exterior.
What do you see in sandwich trends?
I will say 2013 is the year of the pastrami. It’s the new bacon. You heard it here first.
What are you going to be up to at the SoBe Fest?
I gotta say I’m pretty particular about my burgers. I believe there’s a couple things you have to showcase, but I’m very traditional. Nothing fancy.