For Mississippi-raised chef Jernard Wells, delicious Southern-inspired cuisine is a great way to bring people together—not just during the holidays, but all-year round. Now, the CleoTV "New Soul Kitchen" chef is sharing his all-time favorite dishes that are perfect for your upcoming holiday hosting or events from his latest cookbook, Southern Inspired.

Born in Chicago, Wells' family relocated to Mississippi during his childhood, where his great-grandparents owned over 200-acres of farmland as well as a series of smokehouses.

"My father, who was also a chef, wanted me to have a Southern upbringing," Wells told EBONY. "In the end, it worked out to my benefit, especially from the culinary aspect. Seeing my family's love for food, and the way it brought our community together, inspired me to pursue culinary arts."

With more than 24-years as a classically-trained chef under his belt, Wells is paying homage to his Southern roots and culinary ancestors in the newly published cookbook that offers recipes for everything from vegan dishes and holiday hosting, to small plates and more.

Image: courtesy of Chef Jernard Wells.

"This cookbook is a love letter to my family and those that came before me. As African Americans, we started this food thing. Soul food, and Southern food in general prepared by African American hands, traces back to the continent of Africa. As a people, we have mastered taking our roots and cooking styles and merging them into Western civilization. So my goal is to shine light on what our ancestors' hands created."

His cookbook Southern Inspired features more than 100 of the chef's best recipes, and each dish has its own unique story. Whether you're vegan, looking for new dessert ideas or hosting the annual Friendsgiving at your place, Chef Jernard has a dish for every occasion. We asked him to share three of his favorite dishes from the cookbook that are sure to be a hit as you plan your holiday hosting menu.

Sweet Tea Brine Fried Chicken

According to Wells, the key to bringing this recipe to life is using your favorite sweet tea and letting the chicken marinate for at least 24-hours in it.


  • 1 (5-pound) chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces
  • 1⁄2 cup smoked paprika, divided
  • 1⁄2 cup Cajun seasoning, homemade (page 20) or store-bought, divided

Sweet Tea Brine
  • 2 quarts your favorite sweet tea
  • 1⁄4 cup kosher salt
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 5 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 5 sprigs fresh basil (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons dried rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • Sliced scallions, for garnish
  • (optional)

For breading and frying
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1⁄2 cup your favorite hot sauce, plus more for serving
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour


  1. Put the chicken pieces in a large pot and pour the sweet tea over them. The chicken pieces should be completely submerged; if not, add more tea. Add the salt and herb sprigs and cover the pot. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.
  1. Remove the chicken pieces from the pot (discard the brining liquid) and put them in a large bowl. Pour the milk and hot sauce over them. Add 1⁄4 cup of the smoked paprika and 1⁄4 cup of the Cajun seasoning and turn the pieces over to evenly coat.
  2. In another large bowl, whisk together the flour, remaining 1⁄4 cup smoked paprika, remaining 1⁄4 cup Cajun seasoning, dried rosemary, dried thyme, crushed red pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder.
  3. Set a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Working with one or two pieces at a time, remove the chicken from the milk mixture and dredge in the seasoned flour. Place the breaded chicken on the rack and allow to rest for 5–10 minutes.
  4. In the meantime, pour vegetable oil into a large, heavy-bottomed pan or cast iron skillet to no more than halfway up the side. Prop or clip in a deep-fry thermometer so that the bulb is submerged in the oil. Heat over medium-high heat until the thermometer registers 350 degrees F. (Alternatively, you can use a deep fryer.
  5. Working in batches to not crowd the pan, gently submerge some of the chicken pieces in the hot oil. Fry for 7–10 minutes per side until the breading is golden brown and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken reads 165 degrees F. Continue until all the chicken is fried.
  6. Drizzle with additional hot sauce and garnish with sliced scallions, if you like.

NOLA-Style BBQ Shrimp

This isn't your average BBQ shrimp, and while it may take a little work to make up the sauce, Wells says you won't go wrong with this recipe on your holiday hosting menu.


  • 4 tablespoons (1⁄2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1⁄4 cup minced garlic
  • 1⁄2 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1⁄4 cup your favorite hot sauce
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning, homemade (page 20) or store-bought
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 pounds jumbo shrimp, deveined but unpeeled
  • 1 large lemon, sliced
  • Garlic bread, for serving


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Melt the butter in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Stir inthe Worcestershire, hot sauce, brown sugar, thyme, and spices. Allow the seasonings and sugar to cook down and simmer for about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the shrimp to the pan, making sure to coat them evenly in the sauce. Lay the lemon slices over the shrimp. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 10 minutes, or until the shrimp are cooked through.
  4. Remove the bay leaves and serve with your favorite garlic bread.

Chunky Buffalo Cauliflower Bites

For the plant-based eaters or even those just looking to incorporate more meatless options in their holiday hosting, Wells' chunky buffalo cauliflower bites are a great addition.


  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 2⁄3 cup rice flour
  • 11⁄2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • Cracked black pepper
  • 1 cup plain seltzer
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets
  • 3–4 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
  • Carrots and celery sticks, for serving

Vegan Buffalo Sauce
  • 1⁄4 cup plus 2 tablespoons non-dairy butter
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon onion powder
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 11⁄4 cups hot sauce
  • 1–2 tablespoons agave


  1. Pour vegetable oil into a Dutch oven or large, heavy-bottomed pot to no more than halfway up the side. Prop or clip in a deep-fry thermometer so that the bulb is submerged in the oil. Heat over medium-high heat until the thermometer registers 350 degrees. (Alternatively, you can use a deep fryer.) Line a plate with paper towels.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, rice flour, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and cayenne. Season with salt and black pepper as desired.
  3. Add the seltzer a little at a time, whisking after each addition, until the batter reaches the right thickness. Not too thick and not too thin—it should coat the back of a spoon without excess dripping.
  4. Dip each piece of cauliflower into the batter, tossing to coat evenly.
  5. Working in batches, fry the cauliflower until golden brown all over, 7–9 minutes. Remove the cauliflower with a spider and drain on the paper towels
  1. While the cauliflower is frying, make the Buffalo sauce. Melt the butter in a medium wok over medium heat. Add the chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, hot sauce, and agave and stir to combine. Bring up to a simmer and cook for 4–5 minutes.
  2. Add the fried cauliflower to the sauce in the wok and gently toss to coat
    evenly. Transfer to a serving dish.
  3. Garnish the cauliflower bites with parsley and serve right away with vegan ranch (recipe follows) for dipping and carrots and celery on the side.