Having risen from “the swamps of Jersey,” Karen Akunowicz is now “The Boss” at one of Boston’s longest-running dining duets- Myers & Chang. Having started in hospitality as a bartender and manager, the UMass grad was eventually drawn to the flame and enrolled at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. After serving at such venerable venues as Ten Tables and Via Matta (where she met half of the dynamic duo for whom she now happily works, Christopher Myers), Akunowicz snuck off to Italy, where she eventually became chef at L’Avion blu Enoteca. When she returned, the service-minded Akunowicz again engaged in chef-ery while also working to engage troubled youth in Lowell by teaching them to cook and inspiring them as she had been (and continues to be) inspired herself. She has also started a successful series of cooking classes at M&C so everyone can learn to have the fun with food that she enjoys every day.
EXHALE: How did you get into cooking?
Karen Akunowicz: I started cooking to impress a girl. I told her that I could cook, so that she would come to my house for dinner. At the time, I could barely boil water. I made pasta with puttanesca sauce, and remember thinking, “Wow, this is kind of like magic.” That really started it all, I went to Culinary School a year later.
EXHALE: Where was your first professional kitchen experience?
KA: I did some sandwich making and prep at a coffee shop when I was in college, but my first job as a line cook was at Ten Tables in JP. I remember rolling out pasta on the food bar in the afternoons, it was a fantastic experience. My first real night at work, the chef got sick. There were only ever two of us in the kitchen at the same time, so I had to work the stove, Krista made salads and desserts. We did get everyone fed that night, but not very quickly!
EXHALE: What is your favorite dish to prepare?
KA: It depends on the season, in the winter I love making long simmering soups. In the warmer months raw or barely cooked vegetables turned into salads or sides are infinitely satisfying.
EXHALE: What is the best part of your job?
KA: The best part of my job are the people that I work with. It is my goal, every day, to make sure that they have a positive place to work.
EXHALE: Who is your favorite chef in Boston?
KA: Aside from all of the amazing chefs I have worked for (Joanne Chang, Michael Schlow and Adam Halberg) I would have to say Tim Cushman, I would spend my last penny at OYa.