Jeff Mauro, Local Boy Makes Best Burgers

Struck by his obvious star quality

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By David Hammond

At Hamburger Hop, the kickoff event for Chicago Gourmet, Oak Park-based television chef and food celebrity Jeff Mauro won the People's Choice award for the best burger. This award is given based on a popular vote by people who attended the Hamburger Hop event on Friday, September 27th, 2013.

I had one of Mauro's burgers, or rather one-quarter of a burger. Mauro had the good sense, as did many others at this event, to cook a regular burger, put it on a regular bun, and cut it into four pieces. Contestants who made a small burger on a small bun, unfortunately, never got it right: there was usually an imbalance in the burger-to-bun ratio (too much bread), and the burger, being so small and thin, cooked way too quickly: once you grilled the meat to a crispy char on the outside, the inside was already over-cooked, gray and juiceless.

Mauro's burger was superb…but so were about five other hamburgers I had that night.  Mauro's, though, I remembered as being special, with all-chuck, jalapeno-havarti and (this was the deal-maker) crispy cherry peppers. It was a delicious mouthful.

You'd expect Mauro to know his way around a hand-held food – he is, after all, the star of Food Network's "Sandwich King" – and watching Mauro's team prepare food and interact with the crowd, I was struck by his obvious "star quality."

This is not to demean Mauro's sandwich-making skills (which are apparently awesome) or his achievements on and off the screen, but I was impressed by his easy way with the public, his winning smile, his gregarious and out-going sprezzatura that sends the message that this guy is very comfortable in the kitchen, mugging for cameras, goofing with the crowd.

Some Chicago food writers, like Phil Vettel of the Chicago Tribune, said Mauro's win "was a disappointment. No knock on Mauro, who graciously posed for pictures and chatted nonstop with his fans. And no knock on his excellent Drive-In burger...but one of the nice aspects of the Hamburger Hop is that the winning burgers usually make their way onto their respective chef's menus and that's not possible in Mauro's case."

Whatever.

Mauro made an excellent burger and a lot of people who went to Hamburger Hop thought he did, too.

Twitter shout out from Mauro:

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