Jeff Mauro dishes on his new sauce line and the launch of his first restaurant, Pork & Mindy's

AOL Build Speaker Series: Jeff Mauro
AOL Build Speaker Series: Jeff Mauro

By Lisa Bonarrigo

If you've seen any of Jeff Mauro's Food Network shows or read the titles of any of his recipes, you know he's a funny guy. The winner of Food Network Star and host of Sandwich King and The Kitchen has a passion for humor. Combine that with his love for food, and it's no surprise his face is on the label of his Pork & Mindy's sauce line that debuted earlier this year, which he describes as "an homage to one of the great comedies of all time."

Jeff is also launching his first restaurant by the same name at the end of 2015. He says he'd been approached several times about opening a big full-service restaurant, but it didn't "click" until his partner, Kevin Corsello, came to him with the concept for Pork & Mindy's. "He came to me, and it just felt right," Jeff shares. "The stakes are big. There [are] a lot of great partners involved ... and I loved the name, Pork & Mindy's. I loved the concept. I love that it's fast casual, approachable, fun and community-driven — and [it's] something we can take nationwide."

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Pork & Mindy's is described as a celebration of food, music and art, and Jeff explains that there will be a hyperlocal focus when it comes to different elements of the restaurant. Artwork hanging throughout the space will come from local artists, and the music will be curated from new and budding musicians and DJs in the area. "There's just so much that we want to do to embed ourselves within the community, because we want it to be a comfortable, fun space for people to go to," Jeff says.

The restaurant will feature a wide selection of slow-smoked sandwiches that feature flavors Jeff hopes appeal to the masses. "Our sandwiches are simple," Jeff shares. "The flavors and combinations are very new and fresh, but they're very approachable...I want to introduce the world to some new flavors, but I also want them to embrace it without being put off."

One sandwich that's already gained fame is the Bao to the Pork, which includes hickory-smoked pork with pickled daikon and carrots on a custom bao bun, which is a hybrid of a bun and a bao. It's topped with a relish made with fresh cucumber, jalapeno and cilantro in addition to Pork & Mindy's Asian Plum sauce, one of four upcoming additions to the sauce line.

The first three sauces that debuted earlier this year include Mustard, Sweet and Sweet Heat flavors. Jeff is most proud of their homemade flavor, and the fact that they aren't made with any fillers. Unlike some other barbecue sauces, they aren't cloyingly sweet or oddly thick. "It's a product that my family, who's very honest with me, loves, and runs out of, and begs me for more," he shares. "They love it, and it's something that I proudly cook with, proudly serve and proudly put my face on."

Jeff recommends using the sauces for marinades, or as a topping. "If you combine [our mustard] with mayonnaise and put it on a turkey club sandwich, it's phenomenal," Jeff recommends. He also suggests basting your burger with the Sweet or Sweet Heat flavors. "It just soaks in there and perfectly caramelizes, because it's not just sugar," he shares.

As a native of Illinois, it's no surprise Jeff is starting his business in Chicago, but he doesn't plan to stop there. He'd like to bring the greatest sandwiches in his repertoire to the national stage, and eventually go international. "I want people to be able to experience sandwiches in the purest form ... for everybody, not just fast food sandwiches in a wrapper. I'm talking about well-constructed [sandwiches] for the masses." he says.

See photos of Jeff Mauro through the years:

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Related Video: Jeff Mauro on 'The Kitchen'

Jeff Mauro on 'The Kitchen'
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Originally published