‘Top Chef’s Karen Reveals What Made Her ‘Stressed Out’ In Her 1st Season & How She Learned From It

'Top Chef's season 13 fan favorite Karen Akunowicz learned from her stresses and she's carrying the tips into the show's All-Star 17th season!

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Fan favorite Top Chef alum and restaurant owner, Karen Akunowicz, TK, loved competing on the 13th season of the show so much that it was a no brainer when Bravo asked her to compete during its 17th coveted all-star season, but this time around, she’s feeling more prepared. “My first season I was incredibly stressed out by quickfire challenges,” Karen told HollywoodLife EXCLUSIVELY from her restaurant, Fox & The Knife Enoteca in Boston on April 9. “We also had a fair amount of elimination quickfires and so this season, I really used them as practice, to really practice for elimination to think on my feet and to really utilize them in the best way possible and to have fun with that, and that for me was was a big piece of what I took from my first season going into all-stars.”

Although Karen felt less stressed because she knew what to expect going into a new season, the competition this time around was different since there were no new faces in the LA kitchen. “Everybody who’s on the season was either a front runner, a finalist or a fan favorite so we’ve all been — It’s nobody’s first rodeo,” Karen said. “So I think all of the the things that you learn the first time around you hopefully remember at least some of them for the next time around. But we’re all in the same boat. It’s not a season where there are — Half the people in house are turning chefs. It’s, you know, all of the all-stars. We’ve all done this before at least one other time, if not more than that.”

And with so many familiar faces, Karen knew right away there was no single chef when it came to who would be her biggest threat. “There is nobody that I could look at at this point and say that person isn’t my competition,” Karen revealed. “We still have a lot of competition from season 6. Kevin [Gillespie] and Brian [Malarkey], Jen Carroll. You know, I always think Stephanie Cmar from Boston, one of my dearest friends. She’s always somebody. NiNi Nguyen is just a force to be reckoned with. You know, the Boston season, Melissa King, as well as Greg Gourdet are both formidable opponents. And you know, there’s just tons of amazing people on the show and truly everybody was, you know, I really feel that almost everybody on the season you know, everybody, when you’re watching, it’s like you were rooting for everybody during the season. So it’s a pretty cool thing.”

Courtesy of Bravo

James Beard Award Winning Chef Karen’s been hard at work on the ground in Boston as her restaurant Fox & The Knife in the south of Boston remains open for takeout and delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic and despite everything going on in the world, she is thankful she can keep some of her employees working and her customers fed. “We are operating for takeout as well as wholesale pasta,” Karen revealed. “What that allowed us to do was to keep five of our managers on full salary. During this time we brought back two of our hourly employees that we are able to keep employed full-time. We gave all of our furloughed hourly staff 40 hours of paid time off, and I’m committed to paying 100% of their health insurance. As long as we are open and running as a takeout business. In addition, all of the tips that we get from our takeout and also pasta is split between the folks that are working and our furloughed staff.”

Tune in to see how Chef Karen and the other chefs deal with the stresses & challenges in the kitchen as Bravo’s Top Chef: All-Stars LA airs Thursday nights at 10pm.