Karen Akunowicz on cooking for PFLAG and her chances at winning “Top Chef” Fan Favorite

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You probably remember Chef Karen Akunowicz (aka Pink Dragon) from this season of Bravo’s Top Chef. The a fierce competitor who cooked her way to the final seven graciously took some time to speak with me about post-Top Chef life, including her role as Culinary Chair for an upcoming LGBT fundraiser and her surprise at making it to the final two cheftestants in the Fan Favorite competition.

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AfterEllen.com: So, sadly you were sent home on Top Chef a few weeks ago. Now that you’ve had a little more distance from that experience, what were some of your favorite moments,  either that we saw on air or behind the scenes?

Karen Akunowicz: Oh my gosh, I have so many favorite moments. It’s actually easier to pinpoint them with a little bit of distance—you know, as you get away from it, your memories get fonder. [laughs] I loved the Korean pop-up. I keep saying that, but that was one of my favorite challenges. I loved the Beefsteak challenge. Our team did not win, but I was so proud of the food we made, and I had so much fun during that challenge. I love working with Carl and Kwame. They are two of the most talented chefs that I know, and two of my favorite people. So that was just a great time. Carl and I set up our prep station outside that day—it was a beautiful day—and we were cooking on little induction burners, and I was grilling outside, and it was really just a fantastic event. And actually after I got eliminated, I loved coming back and working with Marjorie for her first finale challenge.

 

AE: Yeah, she’s so great.

KA: She’s one of my favorite people and she’s wildly talented. For me, her and I working together—we can kind of work without having to talk too much. We have great communication and we think the same way about a lot of things, so we can help each other sort of process through the dish. We collaborate really well together. So that was one of my favorite moments as well. It was just such a fantastic time and such a unique experience.

 

AE: Do you have any key takeaways or things you’ve learned from your time on the show?

KA: Get out of your comfort zone, as much as you can. We all are doing the best that we can, we’re all trying to make awesome food, we’re all in our kitchens doing our work everyday—but having a chance to take yourself outside of that and challenge yourself in ways that feel uncomfortable. I think it’s really important, as important as travel and eating in other restaurants that inspire you. That, for me, was really the biggest takeaway.

AE: So now that you’re done, I know that you are the Culinary Chair of an upcoming PFLAG fundraiser—can you tell me a little bit about that?

KA: I can! I’m really excited about this event—I am working with Greater Boston PFLAG on their Pride & Passion Gala this year. This is their biggest fundraiser of the year, their biggest event, and I think it’s just really going to be fantastic. This fundraiser is where they raise the majority of their funds for the entire year, so it’s an incredibly important event for people to come out to. The theme for this year is “People who love us unconditionally” and it’s around Mother’s Day, so they’re really focusing on moms. I’m actually bringing my mom to the event.

 

AE: Aww.

KA: Yeah, it just speaks volumes to me. I have had—ooh, I’m gonna cry. No, I am not going to cry. [laughs] I have had the really, really, really good fortune in my life to know from the time I was born to this day, and going forward, that I am loved unconditionally by my family. My mom, my sister, my dad, my aunt, my cousins—I know from the bottom of my heart that I have their unconditional love. And that has made everything in my life possible, really, truly.

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