Jeff Mauro On Reinventing The Hot Dog, Pork & Mindy's, And Staying Inspired

In the restaurant and food television worlds, there's really nobody out there quite like Jeff Mauro. The winner of Food Network Star's seventh season (and the show's biggest breakout star since Guy Fieri), Mauro provides comic relief on Food Network's The Kitchen and whips up insane sandwich creations on Sandwich Kingruns the popular Chicago restaurant Pork & Mindy's, and also finds the time to be a devoted husband and father. We recently caught up with the gregarious and quick-witted Chicago native thanks to his helping to promote Mike's Hard Black Cherry Lemonade with a special hot dog at his restaurant, and we chatted about the promotion, his plan to take Pork & Mindy's national, what's next for him, and how he stays inspired.

The Daily Meal: What made you decide to partner with Mike's Hard?
Jeff Mauro: Well, first of all, they're a Chicago company, and it's the perfect summertime back yard drink. I love the black cherry lemonade, it pairs well with the spicier, richer stuff.

And what was the special hot dog you paired it with?
A Sonoran-Style Bacon-Wrapped Street Dog. It was a natural casing Vienna Beef hot dog, wrapped in bacon and served on a buttered split top roll, topped with smoked beans with poblanos, onion, and garlic; a tomato-herb-onion relish, fresh avocado, banana peppers, zesty mayo, and fresh cilantro.

Sounds delicious.
Yeah, it reminds me of when I travel to Baja, and when I'm just sitting outside with a cold one, eating a hot dog.

So let's talk about Pork & Mindy's. Just by taking a look at its website, it looks like it's primed to become an empire.
Well, I was approached by many people about opening a restaurant, and this was a fully fleshed-out idea. A one-off is great, but this is such a great way to connect with as many people as possible. It's not about money, it's about feeding people. We want to make you uncomfortably full. So full that you wake up the next morning and immediately go on a diet.

How's it working out so far?
Oh, it's been amazing. We've got seven sauces for sale in five states, a summer popup on the Lakefront Museum Campus, and a line of precooked meats coming out.

What sets it apart from the pack?
I wanted something that was whimsical and fun, not cookie cutter, and not mediocre barbecue. I'm a sandwich master, and I wanted to showcase great sandwiches, something that I'd look at on the menu and enjoy. We're creating our own genre.

And you can't beat the name.
Yeah, the name sticks with you. People have to giggle. Even people who don't get the reference have to giggle.

How's the Food Network relationship going?
I'm flying to New York tomorrow to shoot five new episodes of The Kitchen in a week, and I'm also pitching three new shows to them, so it's going great! The tenth season of The Kitchen is ending, it's amazing. I'm in two of the scariest, most volatile, tumultuous, risky businesses: television and restaurants.

Leading such a busy life, how do you stay inspired?
Well I watch a lot of HGTV, it inspires me to work harder so I can get a big house! I'm online all the time, looking for new recipes and new sources of inspiration. And every Friday I go out with my wife and 7 year old son to a different restaurant, from the cheapest ones to the most expensive. My son's great in restaurants, so there's never an issue there. We get there at 6 pm, and we sit there for two hours and we just try stuff.  This way I can see what everyone else is doing, and find inspiration to spin the recipes my own way.