Local chef and owner of Simply Delicious Catering, John Mauro, was recently chosen as a finalist for the popular cable show, Next Food Network Star.
Mauro was nominated by colleagues, unbeknownst to him. “There was a casting call in Rhode Island” says Mauro. “Denise [Kapulka] basically picked me up and said ‘Here’s what you’re doing today’!”
Mauro described the initial interview as “a lot of questions about anything except food”, which he apparently aced, as he was chosen to move on to the telephone interview portion of the selection process. “The producers based on New York called, I had a phone interview with them, the next thing I know I was invited to New York City” says Mauro.
The purpose of the NYC trip was to run through “mock shows” where the contestants simulate actual filming conditions. Unfortunately for Mauro, who lives with Ataxia, a degenerative neurological condition, the television set proved to be challenging. “The sets were hard to navigate” says Mauro. “There were wires on the floor, things changed all the time, I couldn’t foresee what would be where and I couldn’t just move things.”
One of the Food Network sets.
Ultimately, Mauro contacted Food Network producers and gratefully bowed out of Next Food Network Star, but countered with his own idea. “I proposed to producers a cooking show featuring chefs with disabilities” says Mauro. “I suggested they could focus on large format displays.” By way of example, Mauro points out the enormous gingerbread Christmas tree he and his crew built. “It was huge, it lit up, played music and it was all made of edible material.”
Mauro’s idea is that the show could work with corporate sponsors and have the chefs build these large format displays to coincide with events with which the Food Network or show sponsors are involved. “They [displays] could be for trade shows, sporting events, large national events like that” Mauro adds.
The show would also add diversity to the network’s programming. “There isn’t really anything else like it on any cable network” says Mauro. “This would also be a great way to bring more awareness to the National Ataxia Foundation” he adds.
Mauro leading the Ride for John on his adaptive bicycle.
Mauro has been deeply involved with the Ataxia Awareness since being diagnosed with the disorder in 2007. Instead of sitting by waiting for the disorder to progress, Mauro became an advocate. He started the ‘Ride For John – Walk and Roll for Ataxia’ fundraiser in 2007. Mauro was recently nominated to sit on the National Ataxia Foundation board of directors, and expects to be officially appointed at the NAF Annual Conference in Las Vegas in late March.
Currently, Mauro’s television concept has passed the producers’ initial muster, and has moved to phase two. “They [the producers] are figuring out the show formatting and trying to line up sponsors” says Mauro. Any money Mauro earns from the show, should it become a reality, he plans to donate 50% back to the National Ataxia Foundation.
On the topic of a “missed opportunity” with Next Food Network Star and the prospect of becoming a celebrity chef with this new concept, Mauro states, “This is really about driving awareness and fundraising for research. That’s the most important thing to me right now.”