It isn’t every day that you see a Michelin-starred restaurateur rise from the professional snowboarding circuit onto the cuisine industry. That is Chef Akira Back’s story, owner and executive chef of Akira Back Restaurants. He has expanded his global portfolio with sixteen restaurants, including his most recent establishment situated in The Ray Hotel in Delray Beach.
Before Chef Back began his career in the kitchen, he worked at local restaurants to supplement his income. After seven years on the pro-snowboarding circuit, appearing in extreme sports movies and garnering praise from the sport’s top trade publications, he realized that he felt the same exhilaration in the kitchen as he did on his board. This led him to focus on a full-time culinary career as a chef, with an impressive 20-year background that has continued to build to this day.
Chef Back—born Sung Ook Back in Korea in 1974—was raised in Aspen, Colorado. His innovative Asian dishes with an American flair have landed him many accolades and garnered gleaming buzz from the press and acknowledgment from the James Beard Foundation. Soon after he opened Yellowtail in Las Vegas, he was named “Best Chef in Las Vegas” by Las Vegas Weekly and was awarded the title of “Rising Star” by Restaurant Hospitality in 2008. Since then, he’s hosted the prestigious James Beard House dinners and has had the honor of participating in some of the culinary world’s most prestigious events, like the Aspen Food & Wine Festival, Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival, and Bon Appetit’s Vegas Uncork’d. But his greatest “walk of fame” star came in the Fall of 2017 when Chef Back received the Michelin Guide Seoul 2018, which awarded his famed restaurant DOSA one Michelin star for its excellence in innovative cuisine and service, the highest accolade a chef can receive.
For those who love to eat delicious recipes and sample inventive cooking, Chef Back’s dishes will definitely delight them. Besides fine dining, Akira Back Restaurants offer culinary adventures as well. They are classy, full of Asian charm and sophistication, just like his dishes.
Pulled by his inventive food, and a style of cooking that’s both delicate and refined, I visited Akira Back Delray a few days ago. The experience left me curious, wanting to know more about Chef Akira.
What is your culinary philosophy?
I want guests to feel like they are a part of my life through my cuisine. The cuisine on my menu at Akira Back Delray has traditional dishes and some with twists. It also has menu items from my childhood and global travels, both as a snowboarder and professional chef. I want people to have fun and truly enjoy every experience they have with us, from the service to the food and the ambiance, and more.
You spend a lot of time in the kitchen. What makes for a good working environment?
It’s the people.
What are the most essential tools every chef should have in their kitchen?
The most valuable tools and assets we have are all of our amazing team members. This level of success would not be possible without them. It feels so rewarding to see people grow and improve their skills while also enjoying themselves and providing the best customer service and guest experience possible.
What inspires your culinary creations?
Everything. Sounds, lighting, travel, culture, family. I try to constantly learn and think of different ways to innovate and improve my menus and cuisines. The best way is to listen and observe life.
What prompted you to open your own restaurant?
I always love a challenge. So, I wanted to create my own brand in my style. I wanted to reflect on my life through food and never stop creating and adding my life experiences to my cuisine.
What is your signature dish?
A signature dish that has been on our menus for many years (before it became popular) is the “AB Tuna Pizza.” “Jeju Domi” takes me back to my childhood as I did not like raw fish and this dish taught me how to enjoy it. Also, “48 Hour Short Ribs,” my twist on a dish my mother made for me when I was younger.
No discerning menu would be complete without a tasty dessert. What is your favorite dessert on the menu?
My two favorites are “Chocolate in a Cup” and the “AB Cigar.” I love chocolate so they both have that, plus I think the presentation and textures that we have created in these dishes are special.
How do you deal with the daily pressures of the job so you can also enjoy the pleasures it brings?
Every morning, I take my dog Teva on a long walk. I also try to do yoga and meditate as much as possible. This is very beneficial for both the mind and the body.
Tell me about your team and how you devise and evolve your menu.
We have an extensive training program at each location before opening which continues while we are open. Also, we have a robust pipeline of team members all over the world who communicate with each other, discuss best practices, and collaborate together.
Why is it so important for chefs to work with regional suppliers?
Sourcing local ingredients is a great way to get the freshest ingredients possible and also contribute to the local economy and community.
If you were to choose a dish to describe your personality, what would it be?
The “Perfect Storm Roll,” because it’s a rare combination of creativity and different ingredients working together. I have many interests and different things that energize me.
Share a cooking tip or technique you use when sourcing ingredients, cooking and prepping in your kitchen so that people can apply it in their home kitchen.
Taste your food. It’s important to try the food throughout the process and make sure the ingredients are creating the flavors and textures you desire. Enjoy yourself, cooking should be fun.
Meet the chef.
Name: Akira Back
Where he lives: Las Vegas, NV
Restaurant(s) affiliation and location: Akira Back Delray at The Ray Hotel in Delray Beach
Hometown: Born in Seoul, Korea, and raised in Aspen, Colorado
Years as a chef: 20 years
Dishes he is known for: AB Tuna Pizza, Jeju Domi, AB Tacos, Pop Rockin Roll, Chocolate in a Cup, AB Cigar
Social media: @AkiraBackDelray and @ChefAkiraBack