Jeff Mauro's Funniest Kitchen Fails

In advance of the Sandwich King's new Web series, we asked him about his most-memorable cooking blunders — and how you can fix kitchen mistakes that aren't actually so bad.

Jeff Mauro, the Sandwich King himself and co-host of The Kitchen, knows how to have fun while cooking — just watch his Sandwich King blooper reel if you don't believe us. In fact, some of the most-sidesplitting moments in the kitchen happen when you're not trying to be funny. Usually they happen when you just plain fail.

Not one to let a silly, unexpected moment pass by without fully appreciating it, Jeff is about to launch a new Web series that will make home cooks everywhere laugh out loud. Called Kitchen Fails, the series (which will premiere on FoodNetwork.com soon) will showcase everyday people's funniest mishaps in the kitchen — caught in home movies.

But, of course, we couldn't let Jeff poke fun at anyone else's not-so-graceful cooking moments without first spilling some of his own:

What’s your own most-memorable off-camera kitchen fail?

It was Thanksgiving, and my brother was carrying two giant hot casserole dishes full of my mom’s famous mashed potatoes on our way to my aunt and uncle’s house. It’s the dish everyone waits for — it’s made with, like, 19 sticks of butter and cream cheese. It’s baked, it’s bubbly, it’s golden brown. He was going down our back porch, and he slipped and dropped them all over. Bubbling hot, right out of the oven.

The first concern was not whether my brother received third-degree burns, but whether or not the potatoes would be salvageable. They weren’t — the glass pans had broken. But don’t think that there wasn’t an attempt to scoop the potatoes into a clean vessel. It just goes to show that everybody’s susceptible, and that’s kind of the point of this show. We’ve all done it. I don’t care if you’re Alain Ducasse or Anthony Bourdain or Jeff Mauro. You’ve failed in your own kitchen, whether it’s by knife, by fire or by garbage disposal.

What about on camera?

I failed terribly — lopped off my knuckle the first take of the first full season of Sandwich King. The first thing I was doing in the first episode was chopping parsley. I swiped it off my knife, and with the parsley came a good chunk of my thumb. Not only did that happen at 6:30 a.m. on the first shot, but Bob Tuschman had flown in to watch and oversee my first episode. It was a fail beyond failure. It was mortifying. But he reassured me that Rachael Ray did the same thing on the first take of her first season of her first show. And that only led to good things, so I’m in good company.

Are there funny home videos of you cooking out there, from before your Food Network Star days?

My first attempted cooking show, Chef Jeff and Ali, from about 10 years ago. The trailer is actually still on YouTube. It was me and my buddy Ali cooking for a party in a very gonzo, rock-and-roll approach — just very goofy. Ali just got a pickup for a series on Cooking Channel called Cheap Eats, so it all kind of came full circle.

What are your best back-pocket tricks for fixing mistakes in the kitchen?

Not everything is that far from salvageable. For instance, if a dish is too salty, make more of it — add more stock or toss a couple potatoes in there. Don’t tell anybody! The No. 1 rule is “Don’t tell nobody nothing.” Chances are, they won’t ever realize you messed up. You don’t want to serve anything gross, but, you know, if you burn that turkey and it gets a little charred on the outside, cut it away, just like you would toast. If it’s a casserole, get creative in your plating. Or just put more cheese on it. Broil it. Boom.

Are you a clean or messy cook?

According to myself, I’m the cleanest cook in the world. According to my wife, I’m the messiest. I’m fast, and sometimes still cook like I’m on a clock. I doubt that will ever leave me. That’s how I enjoy to cook. I like putting nonexistent pressure on myself to get dinner on the table. In that process, I sling some stuff around. And according to my wife, I do not clean well enough. She does find sauce in odd places.

Were you a picky eater as a kid?

Not particularly. I wasn’t adventurous, and it was a different time back then. Unlike my son, who goes out to all different restaurants, we went to Greek restaurants and Italian restaurants in our neighborhood in Little Italy. I loved food so much from a young age. My happiness was based on where we were going. I didn’t want a lamb chop or steak and potatoes. I wanted a burger, I wanted a grilled cheese, I wanted a patty melt (hence my obsession with sandwiches). Or pizza. I love pizza.

Do you remember the first thing you ever attempted to cook? Was it a success?

I don’t know if you'd call it cooking — it was more building. I was one of four, and my mom went back to school and said, “You guys have to make your own lunches. I can’t do it every morning.” I always hated wilted lettuce, warm mayo and mealy tomatoes. I would pack my lunch in a little cooler bag, separate my ingredients in their own separate zipper-top bags, put a little packet of sauce in there and build a sandwich at the lunch table. Picture a seventh grader doing this — I wasn’t that popular.  

You like to cook with your son, Lorenzo, right? Is he pretty adventurous?

We’re getting there. Because we travel a lot and dine out, we’re getting to this equilibrium stage. He’s starting to eat what we’re eating, and if it’s spicy, I’ll make him a separate batch before adding some spicy elements. I made him some chicken and smoked Gouda sausage; he liked that. Then we did a salad with pine nuts, and he faked an allergy. He’s a wise kid. He pretended his throat was closing up just like he reacted when he had his first shrimp, because he knows his grandfather is allergic to shellfish. He likes steak, all sorts of protein and vegetables.

He can crack the hell out of an egg. Good benchmark for a kid. It’s a little gooey, it’s a little messy, but it’s precise, and they can feel the weight of it to learn how to manipulate the egg cleanly into a bowl without getting shells in it. We make a lot of breakfast, and I show him how to pinch the salt and season from up high, stuff like that. It’s fun, though still not as exciting to him as Minecraft — I’m not going to lie.