Tony Messina and Karen Akunowicz James Beard

Meet Our James Beard Best Chef: Northeast! Winners

CSCA Alum Tony Messina (Professional Chef’s Program Graduate of 2010) of Uni in the Back Bay took home the 2019 Best Chef: Northeast medal at the recent James Beard Awards ceremony in Chicago, celebrating the country’s top chefs and restaurants.

Born and raised in East Boston, Tony began cooking at age 14 and a few years after high school, joined the team at Michael Schlow’s Alta Strada, where he pulled double duty as a line cook and head server, learning the front and back of the restaurant industry.

In 2009, Tony decided to attend CSCA and staged at some of the best restaurants in Boston while completing his education. Following graduation, he returned to Alta Strada as Sous Chef, cooking up simple, clean Italian food using the best quality ingredients.

Long a fan of Japanese cuisine and its nuanced artistry, Tony began his search to find the best sushi restaurant in Boston. He joined the team at AKA Bistro as Chris Chung’s Sashimi Assistant in 2011, working his way up to Assistant Sashimi Chef. Tony’s next move brought him to Ken Oringer’s Uni Sashimi Bar, where he was named Sashimi Chef in September 2012.

In 2016, the intimate sashimi bar expanded into the former Clio space to become a full-scale Japanese restaurant serving inventive Asian cuisine. The menu highlights fresh seafood, with innovative sashimi and sushi offerings, and utilizes exciting flavors and ingredients in street food-inspired dishes. With the expansion of UNI, Tony took on the role of Executive Chef and Partner alongside Owner Ken Oringer. In 2018, Tony was honored by Boston magazine as the city’s “Best Outstanding Chef” in their annual Best of Boston issue.

Tony was previously a nominee for the James Beard Best Chef: Northeast award in 2018, which CSCA Alum Karen Akunowicz (Professional Chef’s Program Graduate of 2005) now of Fox & the Knife took home, and a semifinalist the year before that.

After graduating from the Professional Chef’s Program at CSCA, Karen Akunowicz started her culinary career at Ten Tables in Jamaica Plain. She went on to cook at Via Matta in Boston’s Back Bay and jumped at the opportunity to travel to Modena, Italy where she staged in an Osteria making pasta before becoming the Chef at L’Avion blu Enoteca. Upon her return to the States, Karen worked as Ana Sortun’s Sous Chef at Oleana. Her next career change brought her to United Teen Equality Center Lowell where she created the Fresh Roots Culinary Program, teaching culinary arts to Lowell’s most disengaged youth and helping them find employment in the field.

For seven years, Karen led the kitchen at Myers + Chang as Executive Chef, where she co-authored Myers+Chang at Home and was called one of the “21 Badass Women Changing the Food World” by Marie Claire Magazine. She also competed and was a fan favorite on Bravo TV’s Emmy nominated show “Top Chef” as well as the Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay.” In February 2019, Karen opened the doors to her own restaurant: Fox & the Knife is a cozy, comfortable restaurant evoking Modena, Italy in South Boston.

See what other CSCA alumni have been up to here.

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