Food Network star Jeff Mauro returns to alma mater


Photo by Alex Goldstein

Jeff Mauro displays his finished eggplant parmesan sandwich

Like stirring a batch of pasta, OPRF alum and winner of season seven of “Food Network Star” Jeff Mauro jumps at every chance to “stir the pot” with his audience. If he meets anyone donning a Chicago Cubs hat, Mauro becomes visibly upset, establishing himself as an ardent south-sider.

On Oct. 8, Mauro, host of the Emmy-nominated cooking show “Sandwich King,” who has also been featured on “Chopped;” the “Today” show; and “Good Morning America” returned to OPRF for a cooking demonstration and Q&A. “It’s wild to be back,” he said.

At the beginning of second period, OPRF’s Family and Consumer Sciences and Business Incubator classes crowded the North Cafeteria for the demonstration. Mauro prepared the dish that won him the Food Network Star competition and the title of “Sandwich King” in his first cooking show: eggplant parmesan sandwiches.

 The room filled with laughs as Mauro cracked a constant stream of jokes, from asking students what their favorite pizza joints were to prolonged, yet humorous rants about the cafeteria cookies and not seeing his headshot in the Student Center.

“I was a performer, I was a class clown, I loved making people laugh,” Mauro said, reflecting on his four years at OPRF. “To me, (cooking) was the same as performance or comedy – it’s a creation that a lot of times you make up on the fly, like improv,” he said. “Instead of applause or laughter, you get joy in seeing people chewing and smiling.” Before auditioning for “Food Network Star,” Mauro performed in OPRF’s Studio 200 shows and graduated from Bradley University in Peoria with a degree in Radio and Television Communications and Le Cordon Bleu culinary program in Hollywood.

Applause, laughter, chewing, smiling – “Come on Over… to OPRF!” had it all. Family and Consumer Sciences department Chair Kristina Belpedio and teacher Jackie Morris served as designated taste testers, each tasting half of one sandwich and articulating how each bite tasted – something Mauro constantly experiences the stress of when he cooks for a panel of judges. This time, however, the atmosphere was more relaxed – each “food review” overwhelmingly positive and met with a huge round of student applause. 

The excitement did not diminish as the event transitioned into the Little Theatre for a Q&A. Arms excitedly shot up in the air as Mauro’s seventh-grade son Lorenzo, pulled out of school for the occasion, tossed baseball caps to students who asked the best questions. The logo of Mauro’s company, Mauro Provisions, was plastered across the front of each cap.

 The company, based in Chicago, delivers locally-sourced meats or “butcher boxes” to families in Chicagoland.  

Mauro’s successes have not come without moments of contemplation and reflection.  

“My wife is always very realistically supportive of me,” he said. “Not like, ‘You can do it, you can make it,’ but more like ‘What are you doing today to make it?’”

“It’s definitely a unique and amazing opportunity for the students to be a part of,” Belpedio said. “We really wanted to offer it to students who were in both Family and Consumer Sciences and Business Ed, so that they could see the full picture of all of (Mauro’s) experiences.”

“Just being in the presence of a celebrity (was my favorite part),” said senior Charles Dear. “I hope all of (Mauro’s) shows are on demand so I can binge them.”

Mauro’s first cookbook, “Come on Over: 111 fantastic recipes for the family that cooks, eats, and laughs together,” was released April 13 and is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. He also hosts the “Come on Over” podcast, available on Apple Podcasts; Google Podcasts; Simplecast; Stitcher; TuneIn; iHeart Radio; and his website,