Jeff Mauro gets in the middle of the block party on Food Network’s ‘Kitchen Crash’

Stars of the show: Celebrity-backed spirits

Jeff Mauro

Jeff Mauro is all about block parties.

Growing up in the Chicago area, his neighborhood held them every summer and he always got involved. He still lives there as an adult, and these days he’s right in the thick of things, even providing the entertainment with his band, the Jewel Bags.

It’s a love he also gets to indulge as host of “Kitchen Crash.” Opening its four-episode second season Tuesday, July 12, on Food Network, the hourlong series brings three professional chefs to block parties in the New York City area to convince residents to hand over the contents of their refrigerators, pantries and cupboards, from which they will create gourmet-quality comestibles in a mobile outdoor kitchen.

The final products that most impress Mauro and a rotating panel of judges including Cliff Crooks, Marc Murphy, Julian Rodarte and Justin Sutherland, wins a $5,000 grand prize for the chef that created it and the family that provided the ingredients.

“We found the greatest blocks that throw the greatest block parties, like throw legendary block parties,” Mauro explains. “And I’m fortunate enough to live in the neighborhood I grew up in, and our block parties have always been to the point where you would invite a hundred people to your block party. I’ve done that before, with food trucks and bartenders. So I was ready for this. … We just found blocks that believe in the sport of block party throwing every summer and we just happened to shoot a show on that day.”

Unlike other competition series such as “Chopped” and “Guy’s Grocery Games” where chefs are drawing from the same source, here no two kitchens are alike, so the chefs have completely different ingredients with which to work. And some of those can be quite esoteric, like the Turkish rub that has been in one family for generations or the peppers that another clan has grown from seedlings for years. And that is certainly reflected in the dishes these chefs turn out.

Out in the crowd, Mauro is helping create a festive atmosphere and just drinking it all in — literally — as one of the attendees.

“I’m not going in my trailer and taking a 15-minute break. There are no breaks on this show …,” he says. “No, I’m playing basketball, I’m running foot races, I’m doing keg stands with the party house – no joke. I’m doing shots with the other party house. I’m completely embedded within the block party. Because again, this is my life. I live it. I live in the neighborhood still and that’s why this show is so perfect for me.”

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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