Food Network chefs celebrate all types of occasions on their shows, and Sunday night's episode of "Food Network Star" was no exception.
Each of the final four contestants were asked to draw a random calendar date from a bag, then prepare a dish and presentation based on what that date's obscure holiday was.
Who knew that Jan. 17 is "Hot Buttered Rum Day?" Viewers do now. That's the date former Chattanoogan Jernard Wells drew. He cooked Caribbean jerk chicken with a hot buttered rum sauce. After preparing their dishes, each chef then had to give a one-minute, live-streaming presentation on foodnetwork.com, answering questions from viewers while demonstrating how to make their dish.
But just before finalists went live, each was surprised with a visit by a family member. Wells' wife, Keena, joined him for a fun presentation that engaged both judges and online viewers. Judges praised Wells on his skill handling viewer questions, including tips and ingredient substitutions, and on the flavor of his dish.
"This is delicious," guest judge Tia Mowery told him. Judge Bobby Flay declared the dish was "spot on."
When Wells was announced the challenge winner, he fought back tears of happiness. It was a strong comeback after almost being eliminated last Sunday night.
"It feels good to know I won with my wife beside me," he said of the emotional reaction.
As winner, Wells got the advantage of making party assignments to his fellow contestants in the elimination challenge. Each chef had to prepare food to feed a studio audience for either a Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick's Day, Mardi Gras or New Year's Eve party. Wells, who grew up in Mississippi, kept the Mardi Gras party for himself. It should have been a home run for him.
Wells' party menu was five-space gumbo, Cajun fried catfish nuggets, and fried rice balls. He included audience participation in the presentation, even having one of the party guests roll rice balls -- "This is how we roll!" he quipped-- and the party went off without a hitch.
While the judges praised the presentation, they panned his food. Flay told him the fish was really salty, and questioned his use of Worcestershire sauce in the gumbo. Mowery told him the gumbo didn't taste like gumbo.
Wells and Cuban chef Ana Quincoces were the bottom two. Her lack of Irish food in a St. Patrick's Day party sent her home and Wells advanced with Tregaye Fraser and and Damiano Carrara to the top three.