Jeff Mauro just won the seventh season of "Food Network Star" by making terrific sandwiches.
The finale taped June 1, and Food Network gave Zap2it exclusive access, with the agreement that the winner would not be revealed until the finale aired Sunday (Aug. 14). The photo above shows Mauro the moment he was named.
That finale was tense.
Judges Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis and Food Network executive Susie Fogelson independently said that the final three contenders were all great, but Mauro's easy way in front of the camera and an idea no one else had put him over the top.
Mauro's show "Sandwich King" premieres Aug. 21.
For the first time, the cooking contest brought back all 15 hopefuls for a reunion show. Then, it was down to three, and Vic "Vegas" Moea, who invents his own words such as "lachanaga" -- a lasagna chimichanga -- was eliminated.
It came down to Mauro and Susie Jimenez (pictured with him above), who as a child followed the harvests with her parents as a migrant laborer, and picked fruit. She cooked her mother's Mexican dishes.
Previous winners include season two's Guy Fieri, season four's Aaron McCargo, Jr., season five's Melissa d'Arabian and last season's winner, Aarti Sequeira.
Mauro's sample show included how to make a complicated braciole sandwich.
Of the 11 challenges that included last week's "Iron Chef" and cooking for the cast of "Cougar Town," Mauro says the most difficult challenge was, "the anxiety of not knowing what is coming next, having everything in your life mapped out without knowing where you are going."
"Your brain stews while you come up with scenarios and of course being away from your family, it affects you," says the married father of a toddler. "And if you are strong enough, you can tell yourself you are doing this for them and not let them down by focusing on homesickness too much."
Paula Deen gave him the best advice, which Mauro repeated: "Don't be afraid to lay it all out there. They can edit it. How do you know where you are going to go if you don't hit the ceiling?"
Photo/Video credit: Food Network