Myers + Chang is capping off a banner year—complete with a milestone anniversary, a rave review, a new cookbook, and a coveted James Beard award—with some bombshell news: Executive chef and partner Karen Akunowicz is leaving the beloved restaurant later this month to focus on opening her own place.
“We are immensely sad to see her go, but we support her 100 percent and are very happy for her in her next steps,” co-owner Joanne Chang said in an email.
Akunowicz’s last day is June 30. Myers + Chang will promote the current chef de cuisine, Veo Robert, and bring back former sous chef Ashley Lujares as co-executive chefs.
Akunowicz has been chef at Myers + Chang for seven years, and a partner alongside Chang and Chang’s husband, Christopher Myers, for the past four. She was nominated as Best Chef: Northeast by the James Beard Foundation every year she has helmed Myers + Chang, and finally won the award last month.
“It definitely wasn’t [like], ‘I just won a James Beard award, now I’m going to Disney World!'” Akunowicz says, with a laugh. “The timing just coincided. This has been a fantastic year,” she adds, mentioning Myers + Chang’s 10th anniversary, her first cookbook co-authored with Chang, and Devra First’s four-star review in the Boston Globe. “It’s a high note, and we’re all really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish together.”
Leaving is hard, though. “It feels like cutting my arm off,” Akunowicz says. “That being said, I do have other projects I want to work on. It made sense… [to] branch out on my own.”
A few years ago, there were plans for the chef to join Chang and Myers on a new project in Kendall Square, either a second location of their dumpling diner, or a new venture. But things stalled when the married partners decided to focus on expanding the Flour Bakery + Café brand, Akunowicz says, and she pivoted to her own plan, with her bosses’ support.
Akunowicz is finalizing her location and concept, and plans to share the details about her new restaurant soon, she says.
“This is a culmination, for me, of 21 years in the industry,” she says.
A New Jersey native, Akunowicz started her restaurant career as a server in a diner. She cooked at Ten Tables in Jamaica Plain, and lived in Modena, Italy, for a year while learning the art of pasta-making. Akunowicz was a bartender at the late Via Matta when she first met then-co-owner Christopher Myers, and she also worked in the kitchen there for a few years, alongside chef Michael Schlow. She was sous chef at Oleana with Ana Sortun and Cassie Piuma before she started at Myers + Chang. In 2015, Akunowicz was a fan favorite and top seven finisher on the 13th season of Top Chef.
“There are definitely things I’m excited to go back to cooking and making,” she says. “For me, creating a restaurant that is warm and welcoming and hospitable is my goal. This is a really personal project… and I am excited to delve into some new things that are a jump from what I am doing now.”
Akunowicz is diving into restaurateurship with her spouse, LJ, and some silent investors. The new venture could open in fall 2018. The chef and author also shares she is in the “formative stages” of a new cookbook proposal.
In the meantime, it’s business as usual at Myers + Chang through Akunowicz’s last day on Saturday, June 30. The pink-haired chef can typically be seen in the open kitchen during lunch and dinner service Tuesday-Saturday.
“Please come by and say hello. I want to cook udon noodles for everyone, one last time,” Akunowicz says.
Myers + Chang, 1145 Washington St., Boston, 617-542-5200, myersandchang.com.
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