AKIRA BACK – FROM EXTREME SPORTS TO WORLD-RENOWNED CHEF
Akira Back is a Michelin-starred chef famed for his bold, American-infused takes on Asian food. Born in South Korea, he grew up in Colorado, US, where he spent his early years as a professional snowboarder.
Now his portfolio of restaurants includes the famed Yellowtail Japanese Restaurant & Lounge at Bellagio Resort & Casino in Las Vegas and Kumi Japanese Restaurant + Bar at Mandalay Bay. Chef Akira also runs his namesake brand, Akira Back restaurants, soon to be in 20 locations around the world, including a new branch in the Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park hotel. His newest concepts include AB Steak in Jakarta and ABar in Bangkok. The 2018 Seoul Michelin Guide awarded his restaurant, Dosa, a Michelin star.
We chat to Chef Akira about how he manages such a large number of restaurants, his Iron Chef contest with Bobby Flay, and cooking at James Beard House.
So Chef Akira, from a professional snowboarder to a chef – that’s quite a change! Or is it – is being in the kitchen a comparable thrill?
Of course it’s a big change, but both give me excitement! The ultimate goal is to have fun in whatever I do and connect with friends.
You will soon have 20 branches of Akira Back around the world, two restaurants in Las Vegas, and new venues in Jakarta and Bangkok – you must be forever on an airplane! How do you manage so many restaurants? How personally involved with each one are you?
I fly a lot! Most important thing is understanding how to manage the restaurant and team. Consistency is the key; I need my key team player to live in the place where the restaurant is located. Each team is trained, either by myself, or at one of our Akira Back restaurants. They think and cook the same way I do, but with their own passion, of course. This applies to every restaurant.
The next thing is to ensure excellent service in each location. Every restaurant team needs to understand the local market, including its people and culture. Food is a key part of Asian culture; people think about food a lot, therefore being a chef in Asia isn’t only about knowing how to cook – it’s about knowing what to cook and understanding the cultural requirements. It’s definitely challenging; each location is different, but that’s why we do so well – we incorporate the local essence in each of our menus.
What was opening Akira Back in Thailand like? Any different from anywhere else? Do different regions around the world have different challenges?
No, in terms setting up a business, I can say that everywhere is generally the same. Opening in a hotel is exciting and challenging; we need to push some people and be gentle with others. We need to learn and adapt. I have to say, it is exciting to open in Bangkok: the food hub of Southeast Asia. It’s great to be part of it all, and Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park is a great partner. The location and the quality of the hotel and its service also help to raise our restaurant to the highest level.
You’ve had a list of TV appearances, including an Iron Chef battle against Bobby Flay – what was this experience like?
Fun and fast! I felt so much energy working with the TV team; they are super fun and cool. As you can already tell, I love challenges!
And finally, you’ve hosted several dinners at James Beard House. In your opinion is this organisation still managing to position itself as a centre of culinary innovation or are newer, hipper establishments at the forefront these days?
Of course, to receive an invitation from James Beard is a real honour. Many chefs want to cook there and it is always a great experience.
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