Using the Internet and cell phone text messaging, they chose the spiky haired Fieri and his passion for spicy food with attitude over fellow finalist Reggie Southerland, a baker with sass from Los Angeles.

Fieri now will get to host his own six-episode cooking show, which will debut in June.

Fieri's win was a better-kept secret than his arrival in the finals. The Food Network mistakenly identified the two finalists on its Web site two days before that show aired.

But Fieri said he didn't know who would win until he was in the middle of taping the final episode Friday afternoon in New York. He started to realize things were looking good when his family and friends arrived and then his cooking idol, Emeril Lagasse, walked onto the set.

When Lagasse, whom many credit with creating the celebrity TV chef phenomenon 10 years ago with his show "Emeril Live," opened an envelope and read the results declaring him the winner, Fieri said he became emotional and almost cried.

"This is beyond what I ever imagined would happened," Fieri said. "The only thing that I can compare this to, even though it doesn't quite compare, is the birth of my sons."

About 50 friends, fans and co-workers turned out at Fieri's Russell Ramsey's Chop House on Sunday night to watch the final episode and to cheer him on.

When a video clip showing a Santa Rosa highway exit appeared on the bar's big screen TV, the crowd went wild.

"I think Santa Rosa really came out for the hometown boy," said his father, Jim Ferry of Santa Rosa. "I'd say the whole North Coast."

Ferry said if his son has half the success of other major celebrity chefs like Emeril, it could do wonders for the community's profile and its reputation as a destination for fine food.

Fieri, a 38-year-old graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, moved to Santa Rosa from Southern California and opened Johnny Garlic's on Farmers Lane with partner Steve Gruber in 1996. They later opened Russell Ramsey's Chop House there, but they still have Johnny Garlic's California Pasta Grill in Windsor, as well as Tex Wasabi's Rock-N-Roll Sushi BBQ in downtown Santa Rosa.

Fieri's wife, Lori; sons Hunter, 9, and Ryder, 3 months; and other family members all attended the taping and parties that followed at the restaurants of other Food Network celebrity chefs, including Bobby Flay and Mario Batali.

Fieri's father said the parties were incredible.

"It was rocking. It rocked our old bones right out of there," Ferry said of the bash for 400 at Bobby Flay's Manhattan eatery, Bar Americain.

Work on Fieri's TV show begins today with a production meeting that Fieri says is shaping up to be an exercise in compromise.

He has proposed several ideas to personalize his show, but he's realizing he's a long way from having the kind of celebrity status of Emeril.

He wanted the set of his show to have stainless steel counters, like a commercial kitchen. He also proposed a plasma screen TV in the background showing extreme motor sports, such as motocross or drag racing. And he thought some heavy metal music, such as Motley Crue, might add a little zest.

But for a show that's going to air at 10 a.m. Sundays, Fieri may have to throttle back a little bit.

"They said, 'You need to go to your production meeting,' " he said.