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Elmwood Park’s ‘Sandwich King’ lands Food Network show

Elmwood Park's Jeff Mauro winner 'Food Network Star.'

Elmwood Park's Jeff Mauro, winner of "Food Network Star."

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Updated: November 3, 2011 10:00AM

Jeff Mauro is the sandwich king — just ask the judges on “Food Network Star,” who crowned Mauro their Season 7 champion and gave him his own cooking show. Or ask the Chicagoans who enjoyed the sandwiches he served for four years as a private chef.

Better yet, ask Mauro himself.

“I find beauty in sandwiches,” said Mauro, 33, of Elmwood Park. “It’s fun to pick my brain and see what I come up with. I make every meal into a sandwich and make any sandwich into a meal.”

For “Food Network Star,” that meant serving up everything from a deconstructed eggplant parmesan sandwich to a sandwichified variation on his mother’s beef braciole, which he crafted to secure the win.

For the final competition, Mauro and runner-up Susie Jimenez each filmed a short pilot, showcasing what their cooking show would be like.

During his pilot, Mauro talked about his family and joked, advising viewers to add half to one cup of wine, “depending on the evening.”

The chef credits his easygoing stage presence with his history in show biz — in 2000, he was cast in the Chicago interactive theater show “Tony ’n’ Tina’s Wedding.” After 3 1/2 years co-owning a deli with his cousin and performing, Mauro moved to Los Angeles to make it as a television chef, filming “crazy barbecues” and making impromptu pilots he hawked to networks.

When that didn’t pan out, he attended the Kitchen Academy in 2006 in the hopes of legitimizing himself as a chef. He auditioned twice for “The Next Food Network Star,” making it to the semifinals for Season 4, but ultimately he was turned down.

“It’s always been my dream to marry my two passions — which are food and performing — and what better vehicle than ‘Food Network Star’?” Mauro said.

His third audition landed him a spot on the seventh season of the show, which was renamed “Food Network Star” after the second episode.

The competition was intense, but from the first Star Challenge, Mauro felt he’d found his calling. “I felt so in my comfort zone — I knew I wanted to do it again and over and over again,” Mauro said. “It feels wonderful.”

Food Network executives credit Mauro’s original culinary point of view for his victory on the show.

“The trick is finding the perfect balance between culinary expertise, charismatic personality and the ability to teach and inspire a nation of food lovers,” said Susie Fogelson, Food Network senior vice president. “Jeff found that balance.”

Debuting at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, “Sandwich King” will be a mix of Mauro’s best recipes and his exploits sampling the tastiest sammies Chicago has to offer.

“Chicago is central to who Jeff is and where he finds the inspirations for many of his creations,” said Bob Tuschman, Food Network general manager and senior vice president. “So in producing his new show, it was natural to showcase the city as part of the culinary story.”

As the “quintessential neighborhood guy,” Mauro wanted to showcase the cuisine in his hometown .

“I think Chicago is definitely the co-host of my show,” he said. “It’s a sandwich town; we have so many, from the jibarito to all the great Italian delis.”

He would know. After all, he is the king of the sandwich.

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