TAMPA — Former local resident Jeannie Pierola has been running a restaurant consulting firm for the past 20 months and globetrotting on behalf of corporate clients who need her culinary expertise.
On the recommendation of Uber Chef Wolfgang Puck’s staff, Pierola, who formerly was executive chef at Tampa’s landmark Bern’s Steak House, landed a plum consulting assignment in Cyprus.
“When I first left Bern’s after 10 years, this company went looking for a consulting American chef, and talked with the Wolfgang Puck organization; they recommended me for this,” she said in an interview Friday.
“I’ve been so all over the place. I’ve been to Mexico, Cyprus, Paris, Orange County, California,” she said. “I’ve been in so many places, been doing so many cool things while I’m putting my project together, it’s created a lot of exposure for me.”
While she plans her own new Tampa Bay restaurant in the future, she helps others with theirs.
For nine months off and on, she was in Cypress, developing the menu and training the staff for a fine dining steak house that has now been open a year, she said.
Later she returned there to help with the same multi-billion-dollar shipping company’s new boutique conference center, she said.
Pierola, a Tampa native and a graduate of Bayshore High School in Bradenton, once ran a popular Bradenton Beach restaurant named Tia Lena’s. She later rose to culinary prominence as executive chef at Bern’s, also serving as chef/partner at its sister restaurant, SideBern’s.
Two years ago, she left Bern’s and later launched her Tampa consulting business.
One of her recent clients is Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, a national chain of stylish, sophisticated restaurants. Pierola is helping with its new signature steak, surf and turf and side dishes and appetizers, she said.
“I was very excited to be tapped to do some new menu development for them,” she said.
So what are her restaurant plans for Tampa Bay?
“My intention is to open a new restaurant, but while you’re doing that, you’re not really making an income,” said Pierola. “I’ve been working on the concept. I’m a game changer — I try to do (something) unique, never been seen before.”
Pierola’s parents, Gil and Katie Pierola, still live in Manatee, with her mother a well-known presence because she has been active politically.
Jeannie ran Tia Lena’s at what was then the Catalina Beach Resort. In 1992, she went to work at Bern’s, assigned by its founder, Bern Laxer, to develop new dishes. After he died and the restaurant’s management changed, she left.
For a few years, she captained other Tampa restaurants. But in 1997, Bern’s rehired her as its executive chef, and from its high-profile kitchens, she quickly rose to the top echelons of the business,
“It raised Pierola to the elite of Tampa Bay chefs, a leading woman in local restaurants and one of the most imaginative and artful cooks,” St. Petersburg Times food writer Chris Sherman said at the time.
Pierola is mum about exactly where her new restaurant will open and when.
But in the meantime, she’s having fun flitting about on her worldwide culinary jaunts.
“I guess the next place I’m going is Los Angeles,” said Pierola. “I’m looking at a job there. I haven’t got the job yet, but I’m going to get it. L.A. is just amazing for food.”