Congratulations to Jeff Mauro, aka “The Sandwich King,” who took home top honors in Season 7 finale of “The Next Food Network Star” Sunday evening. The once corporate chef from Chicago will star in his new gig, “Sandwich King,” which airs on the popular network beginning Sunday, Aug. 21.
I can’t say I’m surprised by the outcome. Sure, there were weeks that Mauro seemed to struggle with a challenge or his humor came off as a distraction. But as the competition wore on and other contestants gradually found a narrower focus for their potential show, the self-proclaimed Sandwich King always seemed one (or more) steps ahead of the pack.
After the finale, I re-read the introduction of all the contestants on “The Next Food Network Star” in the June issue of Food Network Magazine. Even then, Mauro’s idea was well-defined and easy to visualize, while other concepts–like easy entertaining, accessible Italian or guilty pleasures–begged for focus.
Though it makes sense that Mauro won–he did have the most marketable plan–I’ll admit I had my other favorites. The (sort of) homer in me pulled for Orchid Paulmeier, the diminutive restaurateur and chef behind One Hot Mama’s, a killer barbecue joint just up the road from me on Hilton Head Island.
I felt a kinship with Mary Beth Albright, the food writer from D.C., and Justin Davis, a blogger (and stay-at-home dad) from Minneapolis. I couldn’t help but feel brighter when Susie Jimenez was on set, smiling her infectious smile. And who hasn’t daydreamed about how Whitney Chen got there–shunning her responsible engineering studies to pursue a passion?
After watching the weeks-long competition, I have no doubt that it takes skill and talent and drive just to even make it on the show or to go as far as some of the contestants did. But it’s also about finding and promoting that one perfectly packaged idea that sets you apart from all the other subjects that easily blend together.
Mauro had that from the beginning, and the judges commented on that more than once over the course of the competition. Time will tell if he has the staying power of, say, wildly popular Season 2 winner Guy Fieri (and his many cookbooks and shows) or Season 5 winner Melissa d’Arabian and her $10 dinners.
But, for now, as the Sandwich King prepares to assume his throne, will you be tuning in?
Photo credit: Food Network