Jeff Mauro has had a pretty impressive career as a chef and TV personality; he won The Next Food Network Star, went on to host his own TV show (Sandwich King), is now a co-host of The Kitchen and is running a successful restaurant and business, Pork and Mindy's, in Chicago. 

Dubbed the Sandwich King for his sandwich-focused culinary point of view, I recently had the opportunity to talk to Jeff while he was at the International Home + Housewares Show in Chicago demoing the new BLACK+DECKER Slice ‘N Dice and George Foreman Grill+Broil. We talked about his career, college days, and the advice he has to offer based on all he's learned. 

How or when did you know you wanted to be a chef?

cake, beer
photo courtesy of Keri Madonna

JM: I worked for a butcher shop down the street when I was 15. Then a deli then a caterer. I graduated college with a degree in radio tv. and opened a deli with my cousin two weeks later. But I also loved performing, I was doing plays and comedies since second grade. I went out to LA and when I had no success getting into the business, I went to culinary school. 

So what was your college experience like?

JM: I went to the same college as my brother and we were in the same frat. I was the kitchen steward so I could room for free. We started handpicking the meats and just totally revamped the kitchen. I remember making everyone sit down and enjoy a nice dinner with wine. It was pretty funny turning this crazy animal house into a place where we enjoyed a civil supper.  

Any advice for college students eating on a budget?

JM: All you need to do is go to your local store, buy bread, a good meat, and cheese every few days. Sandwiches are cheap. Don't go for those burritos and pizzas. Remember that not everything you eat has to be a meal out or a culinary wonderland. 

What's been your favorite part about your career? 

JM: The Kitchen lets me play a lot on the show. I recently got to rap and make beats with Vanilla Ice as Herb, Spice, and Ice live on the show. But my biggest accomplishment was being cast on the Next Food Network Star after four attempts. I spent a lot of years moving and hustling to get to that point. 

And your least favorite?

JM: It's all the travel - I hate being gone from home and getting on planes all of the time. No one is ever like, "Oh, this is great, I can't wait to stand in line!" And I don't pretend to be some big jet-setter, home is home. Chicago is where I grew up, where my family is, where my wife and son are comfortable. When I'm home, I get to relax and water the lawn in my shirt and gym shorts and watch my son. That's what keeps this life manageable. I also play music every day. My son has a drum set and he takes lessons. We slay, just the two of us, as The Two Mauros #TwoMauros (get it?). It's one of the purest ways to decompress. 

What do you think about social media? How do you approach it?

JM: I love sharing glimpses into my daily life. It's also a really important element from the business side. And I get to connect with my fans and answer questions. It also takes some discipline; I post daily to keep people interested and engaged, but not too much. I don't want to dilute the quality by posting everything. It has to be important. 

What's the best advice you've been given?

JM: Enjoy the journey, not the destination. We get caught up in just getting where we're going, but that's not where the meat is. 

Do you feel like you have any advice to give based on your experiences?

JM: Live by this: be nice. Work hard and be nice. It's easy to get a big head and be a diva. I'm not perfect, but I can be as nice as possible. Whether it's a fan or camera man or someone on my team, I try to treat everyone the same. Remember, all of our poop stinks. 

Okay, and I have to ask, what's your favorite sandwich?

JM: Pastrami on rye with mustard and pickles. 

And is there anything else you want people to know?

JM: Yeah, that I look a lot thinner and younger in person. No, really, HD is killing me. Can we all go back to standard definition?