Jeff Mauro, Season 7 winner of “Food Network Star,” is traveling this summer to five state fairs – California, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa – and challenging the public to create tasty and unique hot or cold coffee drinks.
As Food Network celebrity Jeff Mauro was explaining the rules of an on-stage coffee competition at the Illinois State Fair last Friday, he jokingly said he likes to see mishaps.
“It’s more fun if you make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to leave the top off the blender. Extra points for an explosion in a blender,” said Mauro, a judge and emcee at the Seattle’s Best Coffee Red Cup Showdown, which was being videotaped by the sponsor.
His wish came true a few minutes later when contestant Patricia Keim of East Peoria, Ill., mistakenly turned on a blender without a lid, spewing into the air a concoction of coffee, ice cubes, eggnog and cream.
“That made my day!” exclaimed Mauro, a comedian and host of the Food Network’s “Sandwich King” program.
The Season 7 winner of “Food Network Star” is traveling this summer to five state fairs -- California, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa -- and challenging the public to create tasty and unique hot or cold coffee drinks.
“One thing I’ve had no shortage of is whipped cream toppings,” he said, referencing the favorite garnish of many contestants.
The 13 Illinois contestants came up with a variety of drinks. Among the ingredients were zucchini, pumpkin, bananas, nuts, peppers, pineapple, coconut and peaches.
One of the participants, Colette Ellenberg of Springfield, Ill., wore a leprechaun suit while creating her drink, called Pot O’ Gold.
“I had the costume from St. Patrick’s Day, and I knew there were points for presentation,” she said.
But the costume didn’t push her to the top. That honor went to Anthony Karas of Chatham, Ill., a lab technician with the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Karas made Café Mocha en Fuego, a warm blend of Mexican hot chocolate, dark roast coffee, frothed milk, chiles and spices, topped with whipped cream.
“I wasn’t going to enter, but the entry fee was $1 for a $500 prize,” he said.
Not only did he win the cash, he won a trip for two to New York City, where he will compete in late August against the other Red Cup Showdown winners for $10,000, free coffee for a year and having his drink served in Seattle’s Best Coffee shops.
Judges included Mauro and Sam Asay of Seattle’s Best Coffee.
Winning the second-place prize of $100 (an amount Mauro said is enough to “buy the tail of the butter cow”) was Maureen Squires of Springfield, Ill., who made Seattle’s Best Almond Joy, a cold drink.
Squires, a vegan, used almond milk, cold-brew coffee and cream of coconut in the vegan drink, which was topped with a homemade Almond Joy bar.
“I’ve been experimenting for the past month. My kitchen had coconut everywhere,” said the state employee.
Coming in third for a $50 prize was Keim, the woman with the blender mishap.
Her cold drink, Christmas in July, was a blend of eggnog, toffee pieces, malt, vanilla, cream, sugar and vanilla.
“I was really nervous, but it was fun,” she said.
Winning recipes from the five state fair events will be posted on the sponsor’s Facebook page Aug. 18-22. The public can vote for their favorite, and that tally will factor into the judging at the final competition in New York.
This recipe was developed by Mauro for Seattle’s Best Coffee.
PB&J Blended Coffee
1 1/2 cups (4 ounces) coffee grounds
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups ice
2 tablespoons sugar
Whipped cream, for garnish
Homemade or store-bought strawberry sauce, for drizzling
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, crushed
This recipe involves a 12-hour cold brewed coffee process, but the coffee can be prepared up to a week ahead of time.
The cold-brewed coffee is actually concentrated. If you have any cold-brewed coffee left over, add 1 part coffee concentrate to 3 parts water, and serve it over ice.
Make cold-brewed coffee: Add 1/2 cup water to coffee grounds, stirring gently. Add the remaining 2 cups water, agitating the grounds as little as possible. Cover and let steep at room temperature 12 hours.
Slowly strain the coffee-ground mixture with a paper filter, which will take 5-10 minutes or until all liquid has seeped through. If the coffee looks cloudy, strain again using a new filter. Store, refrigerated, for up to a week.
Make blended PB&J coffee: In a blender, combine 1 1/2 cups cold-brewed coffee, milk, ice and sugar until slushy, adding more milk if drink is too thick, and more ice if beverage is too thin.
Divide blended coffee between 2 cups, top with whipped cream, and finish with a generous drizzle of strawberry sauce. Garnish with crushed peanuts.
Makes 2 servings.
Dreams do come true
Although he grew up the Chicago suburb of River Forest and still lives in the area, Jeff Mauro had never been to the Illinois State Fair before last week.
“It’s a travesty, isn’t it?” he said. “But I have been to a lot of neighborhood fairs in Chicago.”
No stranger to central Illinois, Mauro, 34, has a degree in radio/TV from Bradley University in Peoria. He also graduated from California’s Hollywood Kitchen Academy and has worked in the food industry as a line cook, caterer and chef instructor.
After pursuing a career as an entertainer, commercial actor and comic in Los Angeles, he returned to the Chicago area where he opened a deli with a friend. That’s where he became a master of the sandwich, a skill that helped him win Season 7 of the Food Network’s “Food Network Star.”
“I’ll never get sick of sandwiches. Every bite is a source of inspiration,” he said.
Among his favorites are pastrami on rye “with good house-cured, hand-cut pastrami with mustard” and “a good turkey sandwich on good whole-wheat bread with crisp lettuce and maybe some peppers.”
His life has changed drastically since winning the reality show and taping the first season of “Sandwich King.”
“I’m home a lot more now than I’m gone. I’m no longer spending a lot of time pursuing my dream. I’m living my dream.”
Season 2 of “Sandwich King” will kick off on Sunday nights in early September. And Mauro has a second show on the Food Network debuting in late September: “24 Dollars in 24 Hours.” The Monday night program will feature restaurant budget food finds.
Kathryn Rem can be reached at 788-1520.