Many wonderful memories are created around the dinner table. We have all had one major event or another take place while gathered with friends and family over a meal: first dates, marriage proposals, anniversaries and graduations. Some people go out for dinner to be free of cooking responsibilities, plus they get the added bonus of someone else doing the dishes. Dinning out can even be motivation to get through an intensive work week. None-the-less, the dinner table can serve as a memorable part of everyone’s life.
Chef Jeannie Pierola of Edison: Food+Drink Lab in Tampa, Fla. has wonderful memories from all over the world. Her favorites are of Sunday dinners at her grandmother’s house. She holds those dinner close to her heart because they are what inspired her to become a chef. She remembers her grandmother having a huge glass and rod iron table that the family would gather around for dinner. Pierola crawled under the table and would look up to watch all the food being brought out. This is where her obsession with food began. “I grew up in a family where everything we did was driven by food,” Pierola said. “It really didn’t matter what was going on in our lives.”
Originally, Pierola wanted to be a stand-up comedian to bring people joy. However, after spending time in her mother and grandmothers’ kitchens, she realized that being able to cook a delicious meal was just as much of a crowd pleaser. She remembers watching all the painstaking time and love that the women of her family would put into making every household favorite such as empanadas and croquettes. The women in her family cooked with their hearts and souls. Pierola will tell you this was the beginning of her cooking education since she never attended culinary school. She learned from her family and absorbed all the cookbooks she could get her hands on as she grew up.
“Music can bring people together, art can bring people together. [But] there’s nothing that brings people together like food,” Pierola said. “When you are eating with people it’s a very intimate experience and it’s that intimacy, connected with the love and joy, the made me want to become a chef.”
Pierola will tell you that her culinary journey has cost her a fortune, having eaten at some of the best restaurants in the world. Ultimately, these restaurants and her childhood at her parents’ beach resort on Anna Maria Island are what motivated her to open her own restaurant. “I love building a team that creates an incredible, vibrant experience for their guests,” Pierola said.
Cool Beans and Boca were Pierola’s first two restaurants. She then became the executive chef of Bern’s Steak House and SideBern’s in Tampa for 10 years. “My time at Bern’s was the most extraordinary 10 years of my career,” she said. After leaving Bern’s in 2007, Pierola spent a few years traveling and consulting around the world. This journey took Pierola to the country of Cyprus where she expanded her cooking repertoire, while also developing her own steak house and progressive music lounge.
In Cyprus, women are customarily hired to be maids so Pierola’s step into the kitchen was a stirring exception. She worked alongside a woman, a maid, and everyday the woman would watch her cook. After some time, Pierola invited the woman to help her cook and quickly realized the maid’s talent for making sushi. As it so happened, the maid received her cooking experience while working at the Mandarin Oriental, a luxury resort in Singapore. At that pointt, Pierola urged the steak house owner to hire the woman. Today, the former maid is a proud chef like Pierola and the two women are still in contact with each other through Facebook.
Pierola returned to Tampa in 2010 and began a series of pop-up restaurant events she called KitchenBar. She held the last KitchenBar in December of 2011 at the short-lived Knife & Co. in Tampa. This site would become the future home of Edison, which Pierola opened in August of 2012. “That was my journey, none of it was strategically planned, I just saw an idea and I knew I had to do something,” she said.
When Pierola reminisces on her journey, she gets a little teary eyed. She recalls all the wonderful experiences gathered around the dinner table and how those meals influenced the guests at her restaurant and the people who worked for her over the years. “The support that the guests have given me in this town is extraordinary,” she said, pausing for a moment to wipe away a tear. “They blow me away with their enthusiasm and love and I was right when I said that if you cook good food, people will like you.”