Karen Akunowicz is the Chef/Owner of Fox & the Knife enoteca in South Boston, recently named by Food & Wine as one of the 10 best new restaurants of 2019, the owner of a fast-casual poke concept, SloPoke in Whole Foods Downtown Boston, and a 2018 James Beard Foundation Award winner.
A native of Kearny, New Jersey, Akunowicz’s 16-year career began with jobs at local restaurants taken while pursuing a degree in social work from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. During this time she explored every facet of management, working both in front of and back of house. However it wasn’t until Akunowicz was applying for a Master’s Degree in social work that she decided to pivot and attend Cambridge School of Culinary Arts.
FROM THE FRONT TO BACK OF HOUSE
Upon graduating the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts in 2004, Akunowicz embarked on her professional culinary career as a cook making local farm-to-table fare at the beloved Ten Tables restaurant in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood. Thereafter, she accepted a position at restaurant Via Matta in Boston’s Back Bay and fell in love with Italian food. In 2008, she decided to fully immerse herself in Italian cuisine by living and cooking in Modena, Italy for a year, serving as the Chef at L’Avian Blu.
Returning home to Massachusetts, in 2009, Akunowicz went to work for James Beard Award-winning chef Ana Sortun as the Sous Chef at Oleana Restaurant in Cambridge. There she studied the powerful spice-driven cuisine of the Middle East and fully embraced the true farm-to-table approach that was a cornerstone of the restaurant.
In 2011, a new opportunity beckoned, and for seven years Akunowicz led the kitchen at Myers+Chang as Executive Chef, creating powerful, spicy and craveable dishes, drawing inspiration from Chinese, Taiwanese, and Southeast Asian cuisine. During her tenure there she received both local and national praise, including a four-star review in The Boston Globe, and in 2016 was named Boston Magazine’s “Best Chef in 2016.”
In 2015, Akunowicz became a fan favorite when she competed on Bravo’s Emmy-nominated show, “Top Chef.” In 2016, she was named one of the “21 Badass Women Changing the Food World” by Marie Claire, 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. Opening winter 2019, that restaurant is Fox & the Knife, inspired by her time spent cooking in Modena, Italy, the Fox & the Knife is a casual and contemporary homage to the food, wine, culture and spirit of that city, all presented with a warm welcome in a high energy atmosphere. The Fox & the Knife menu highlights Akunowicz’s flair for the soul-satisfying, graceful Italian food that she honed while working in Italy as a pasta maker and Chef of L’Avian Blu Enoteca. At Fox & the Knife, the bold flavors of exceptional ingredients are expressed through both traditional and modern techniques to introduce new versions of beloved classics. Recently, Food & Wine named Fox & the Knife one of the ten best new restaurants in 2019.
BEYOND THE KITCHEN
Akunowicz currently lives in Boston with her partner in business and in life, LJ Johnson, and they married in 2014. Akunowicz has also become almost as well known for her personal style and signature vivid pink hair (which is symbolic of her support of femme queers) as for her critically-acclaimed cuisine. In addition to being the fan favorite on the 13th season of Bravo’s Top Chef, Akunowicz has also appeared as a judge on the program in Season 16. She has been profiled on CBS Saturday Morning’s “The Dish” series, and has been featured as a contestant on Beat Bobby Flay. Akunowicz has also been featured in national publications such as Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Forbes and Wall Street Journal Magazine.
As a side project, Akunowicz writes lifestyle articles and recipes for Prowdr.com and is proud to be a No Kid Hungry Chef, working with the organization Share our Strength to eradicate childhood hunger. She is currently at work on her second cookbook and is excited to make her dream of being a restaurateur a reality with the opening of her first restaurant, Fox & the Knife.
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Best New Restaurants 2019
From a neighborhood charmer in Philly to a hands-in-the-air-like-you-just-don’t-care NOLA butcher shop to some of the best restaurants in New York City, here are the 10 best new places to eat in America right now.
Why it won: Karen Akunowicz’s love letter to Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region is an instant classic.
The tigelle iron is a tricky thing to maneuver in a busy restaurant in a tight, open kitchen—it’s heavy and awkward, a long-handled clover with seven little depressions filled with dough, held over the stove until you get something that resembles a Bolognese English muffin. But it happens every night at Fox & the Knife in Boston, once just before dinner and then again right in the middle of service. The iron is a memento from the year chef Karen Akunowicz spent mending a broken heart and folding tortellini as a young cook in Modena, Italy. For a decade she hung onto the relic, sure she’d build a restaurant around it one day. And by January of this year, she had.
Akunowicz was already a star—a Top Chef contestant and a 2018 James Beard Award winner for her work at Myers + Chang—when she opened Fox & the Knife, but the South Boston spot is her first solo effort. That those tigelle are a specialty from Emilia-Romagna should tell you the mood she’s after here, but Akunowicz mostly has a light touch around regionality. Her wild-boar Bolognese is sticky perfection with its rumble of herbs and Parmesan, and her mafaldini are heavy with salty guanciale. But then there’s that panzanella salad packed with sumac and pomegranate, and that Caesar with spears of grilled broccoli subbed in for romaine, and that round of hot focaccia split at its equator and packed with oozing Taleggio.
None of this is the kind of thing you’d stumble across around Piazza della Pomposa. But here in Boston, in the care of Akunowicz with her shock of pink hair, and in the light of a neon “stay foxy” sign, and with the din of Bostonians turning up with spritzes and Americanos, it all feels exactly right.
CBS This Morning The Dish: Boston chef Karen Akunowicz