Chefs Karen Akunowicz and Kate Williams at Fox & the Knife. Photo credit: Jordan Wise.

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Modern Matriarchs and Pioneering Chefs: Karen Akunowicz and Kate Williams


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Over the course of eight weeks, The Women of Food visited seven cities, and invited thirteen chefs, collaborators, and purveyors to participate in this female-led movement. Together, they used the platform to talk about what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated industry; they gave speeches on building teams, creating safe spaces for creative work, and equipping the next generation with the tools and confidence to succeed.

And yet, the true connective force at each dinner was that each woman had a story to tell. These are the chefs who shaped The Women of Food, and these are their stories.

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Chefs Karen Akunowicz and Kate Williams are ready to go: both women have their hair in topknots, accented by colorful bandanas. The new friends are happy to be together—and in Boston. 

Akunowicz preps the first course: creamy burrata hiding under shredded chard, marjoram, and crispy shallots. Diners fill the convivial space, and sip on Aperol Spritzes, signaling the start of spring.

Bietola & Burrata a la Karen Akunowicz. Photo credit: Jordan Wise.

For Williams, who traveled from Detroit—where she’s the chef-owner of Lady of the House—to cook alongside Akunowicz, the dinner is not only meaningful for its mission, but because of its physical location. “I think there’s a lot of heart that Boston has that we also have in Detroit,” Williams shares with guests. Akunowicz chimes in: “Right now, we see so many women coming to the forefront in the restaurant industry. But in Boston, we’ve always been at the forefront: Jody Adams, Lydia Shire, Barbara Lynch, Joanne Chang … I grew up in this city and I grew up seeing women who owned and operated their own restaurants, so it was something that never seemed unattainable to me. But that is not the case everywhere.” For Akunowicz, the opportunity to prop up successful female chefs in other cities is significant: “It demonstrates to young women what they, too, can become.”

The chefs give a speech. Photo credit: Jordan Wise.

It’s a message that resonates with the group, as Williams’ luscious potato leek soup, accented with salty tobiko, crispy cabbage, and fresh chives, is served. It’s a signature dish for the chef, and while her contemporary farm-to-table cuisine differs from Akunowicz’s original take on classic Italian, the two share a cooking philosophy of being “rooted in tradition but through a modern lens,” in Akunowicz’s words. It’s a shared vision that stems from a mutual matriarchal sensibility: the knowledge that “what was once considered your mother or your grandmother’s role, that’s not what the role of the woman is today.”

Attentive diners. Photo credit: Jordan Wise.

Guests drink happily, between forkfuls of family-style preparations—Williams’ whole branzino with green garlic, salmoriglio, fennel, and pickled lemons and Akunowicz’s delectable lamb loin served over apple cream, sherry mushroom, and onion powder. It’s a meal decidedly different from what their forebears ate, and every last guest is better off for it.