A New Jersey native, chef Karen Akunowicz graduated from UMass Amherst and moved to Boston. For years, she studied the art of hospitality as she bartended and managed restaurants. Drawn to the heat, pressure and hustle of the kitchen she enrolled at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts.
After a stint at Ten Tables in her JP neighborhood, she went on to spend the next few years studying and cooking Italian food at Via Matta in Boston’s Back Bay working for Michael Schlow and Christopher Myers.
Throwing herself though a cracked window of opportunity, she packed her knives and moved to Modena, Italy. She found a red bicycle, inspiration and renewed passion for preparing even the simplest of food. Armed with a fool’s artillery of very little Italian, and no place to live, she staged at a small osteria, made pasta with little old ladies, and finally became the Chef at L’Avion blu Enoteca.
Upon returning to the States, Akunowicz had the opportunity to work for Chef Ana Sortun as her Sous Chef at Oleana restaurant in Cambridge. Akunowicz embraced the farm to table mentality and studied Sortun’s creative spice-driven cuisine.
A twist of fate landed her at United Teen Equality Center Lowell, where she created the Fresh Roots Culinary Program. She worked with Lowell’s most disengaged youth to teach them culinary skills and help them find employment. She was able to combine her passion for cooking and her desire to create community while teaching young people valuable job skills in a difficult economy.
In 2011, a new opportunity beckoned, and she joined the team at Myers+Chang as Executive Chef, creating powerful, spicy and craveable dishes, drawing inspiration from Chinese, Taiwanese, and Southeast Asian cuisine. During her seven year tenure there she received both local and national praise, including a four-star review in The Boston Globe, and Boston Magazine’s Best Chef award in 2016.
In 2015, Akunowicz became a fan favorite when she competed on Bravo’s Emmy nominated show “Top Chef,” and has also appeared on Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay.” In 2016, she was called one of the “21 Badass Women Changing the Food World” by Marie Claire magazine, and the following year she co-authored Myers+Chang at Home (Houghton Mifflin; 2017) with Chef Joanne Chang.
In 2018, Akunowicz won the prestigious James Beard Foundation Award in the category of Best Chef: Northeast. She also made the momentous decision to strike out on her own to open a restaurant called Fox & the Knife, which would allow her to indulge her love of creating Italian-inspired food and drink served in a warm and welcoming enoteca.
When she’s not in the kitchen, Akunowicz writes lifestyle articles and recipes for Prowder.com and is proud to be a No Kid Hungry Chef, working with the organization Share our Strength to eradicate childhood hunger.