Star-a-Day: Jernard Wells

Get to know Jernard Wells, a finalist on Food Network Star, Season 12.

Photo by: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Eddy Chen, 2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

It was only recently that Star Talk broke the news that an unprecedented 12th season of Food Network Star is set to unfold this summer. For the first time ever, a prequel competition — Comeback Kitchen — will bring together seven past Star contestants for a no-holds-barred battle. The winner of this three-week tournament will join the dozen first-time Food Network Star finalists in the premiere episode on Sunday, May 22 at 9|8c. But before the new season kicks off, we're introducing all 12 of the hopeful rivals in exclusive, one-on-one interviews. Keep checking back every day to meet a new member of the cast. Today we'd like you to meet Jernard Wells.

With a wife of 16 years and nine children, Jernard, 37 (Atlanta), has deemed himself “The Chef of Love.” He believes food and love go hand in hand and wants everyone to know how easy cooking can be — and how much excitement it can add to your life. As an executive chef, Jernard has traveled all over the world, including cooking for Tyler Perry, and has even published three cookbooks. Currently the general manager of a tavern in Georgia, Jernard loves to infuse any dish with his Southern flavors and a Cajun twist.

Describe your culinary POV in one sentence.

Jernard Wells: My culinary POV is about food, family and fun. And what that consists of, in short, is comfort food, but my goal is to show people how to connect and bring everything together with those three key elements. Everything we do, whether it’s your friend [or not], they’re considered your family. And cooking is all about having fun and enjoying it with the people that are around you, because that’s when we enjoy it the most is when we got friends and family around us. That’s when we have the best fun when it comes to food.

Who are you most intimidated to be working with, Bobby or Giada?

JW: Ah. Bobby. Bobby. I’m most intimidated to be working with Bobby because Bobby seems to be very stern, and I admit I do need that sternness in me, in my life, but at the same time ... he has his poker face, and I don’t know which way to read it.

If you could ask one of them to teach you one thing in the kitchen, what would it be?

JW: My biggest thing I would want them to teach me is how to make the camera love me more.

What one thing do you really want to convey to the mentors about who you are?

JW: The one thing that I want to convey to them, and what I would like for my show to be about, is that I’m all about being a family man. I’m about being that friend that you have, that cousin, that uncle. I want to convey to them that I’m that person [that] when you smile, I’m the one that you think about. And everyone has one of those people in their family. When you think about that person, it makes you laugh. That’s the guy that I am.

How did you prepare for this competition?

JW: I’ve been strategizing and trying for many years, and there is no easy way to prepare for this competition other than just trying to have your head right and your game face on, because you don’t know what loops could be thrown at you. So, the biggest comparison or the biggest thing that I did to prepare for this was really build my confidence up to be able to handle constructive criticism and go in full throttle and just make sure my energy level is where it needs to be.

Win or lose, what's something you want to take away from this contest?

JW: Win or lose, the biggest thing that I want to take away from this experience is becoming a better me, finding myself. Finding myself because I love cooking, and I feel that this is my destiny to be a chef and to be in the food entertainment industry, so at the end of the day I hope the one thing that I can take with me is becoming a better person in the genre of life that I’m in.

What's your greatest strength in the kitchen?

JW: I think my biggest strength in the kitchen is the ability to be able to handle pressure, and I think I probably inherited that from my father. A lot of people tell me, no matter how stressed out or how big of a nervous wreck I am, I always seem to look calm. But my father, he had what you would call a poker face or a stern face. People used to call him, when I was coming [up], they used to call him "stone face," because his face always stayed one way regardless of if he was feeling excited, good or bad, and I think I kind of inherited that trait from him. No matter what’s going on inside of me, I always seem to look calm.

What is the strangest thing we'd find in your refrigerator right now?

JW: The strangest thing that you may find in my refrigerator today would probably be old, moldy cheese, and a lot of people are, like, "old, moldy cheese?" And that was one of those traits I picked up from my great-grandmother in Mississippi. She believed in aging cheese, and that’s one of the things I’ve always done, and she used to call it "hook cheese," and what you do, the longer you let it sit, the longer it is in high-humidity areas, the better it tastes. So, I normally keep some old sharp cheddar hook cheese somewhere around, aging, and people look at it, "Well, this is disgusting." My great-grandmother used to be like, "You just peel that mold off of it, baby, and it’s the best thing you can eat."

What do you consider to be your signature dish?

JW: I think my signature dish overall is my five-spice seafood gumbo. ... That recipe I inherited from my father, and I perfected it along the way, and it’s always been one of my award-winning dishes, the one I’ve got the most compliments about. And on top of that I just love making gumbo, 'cause at the end of the day I feel like a big pot of gumbo: Some of everything is stirred all in me to come up with Chef Jernard.

What's your favorite food city to visit?

JW: I would have to say San Francisco. I think San Francisco is a great melting pot for so many different cuisines, and then on top of that I’m a huge fan of Asian food. So, there is so many different styles of cuisines to eat there, especially when it comes to Asian cuisine, and I just love, kind of, just stepping out of my own, I guess, culinary box and experimenting. So, I love San Francisco food at the end of the day.

What dish or ingredient will we never catch you eating?

JW: There's probably no dish or no ingredient that I’m afraid to try. Now there’s possibly some undesirable dishes or ingredients that are not in my top-10 category, but there’s nothing that I’m afraid to try.

What's your favorite late-night snack?

JW: My favorite late-night snack would have to be potato chips with bleu cheese crumbles on ‘em.

What's your guilty-pleasure food?

JW: My favorite guilty-pleasure food would be a Honey Bun.

What is one must-have dish at your last supper?

JW: It would have to be a 21-day dry-aged rib eye. Oh, and it has to have bleu cheese crumbles on it. I love bleu cheese crumbles. It has to have bleu cheese crumbles, and I would love to have a nice Port wine reduction sauce glazed over the top of it. And give me a baked sweet potato with cinnamon butter on it and I’m done.

What do you want to say about yourself to fans watching at home?

JW: The biggest thing that I want to say about myself is they call me the chef of love, and they call me the chef of love for a reason. That’s of course because I got nine kids, but that’s not just the beginning of it. You know, I have an interesting lifestyle. One of the things I do is I cook with all my kids, I cook with my wife, and I want people to experience my work, because not just my own immediate family, but I have a huge [extended] family. My father had 32 sisters and brothers, so if you can imagine, with me there is always a great time going on, and it’s always revolved around food. So, I want people to know what it’s like to be in my world, to experience having a good time, whether it’s with family or friends. I’m what you would call that party or that go-to chef. If there’s a barbecue going on, if there is some great cooking going on and it’s a nice gathering going on, trust me, I’m right there in the center of it.

Rapid fire: Think fast!
Ketchup, mustard or mayonnaise? Ketchup
Chocolate or vanilla? Vanilla
Bagels or doughnuts? Doughnuts
Cream cheese or butter? Butter
Coffee or tea? Coffee
Burgers or hot dogs? Burgers

French fries or onion rings? Dang, that’s a tough one. Onion rings.

White meat or dark? White
Cake or pie? Cake
French toast or pancakes? Pancakes
Beer or wine? Wine

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