By Kara Franker By Kara Franker | May 3, 2022 | Food & Drink People
Michelin-starred chef Akira Back dishes on his Aspen roots as he expands his worldwide culinary empire.
Chef Akira Back has hosted the prestigious James Beard House dinners seven times and has also participated in some of the culinary world’s most distinguished events. In 2018, the Michelin Guide Seoul awarded chef Back’s restaurant DOSA one Michelin star for its excellence in innovative cuisine and service—one of the highest accolades a chef can receive.
Known for his innovative interpretations of Asian fare with American influence, Akira Back continues to expand his global portfolio with 16 restaurants currently open and an additional 12 with scheduled opening dates through 2024. Born in Korea and raised in Aspen, Back spent his early years as professional snowboarder before bringing his sense of adventure to the kitchen earning top accolades across the industry.
Tuna tataki topped with mustard sumiso sauce and pickled wasabi on a plate designed by the chef’s artist mother
Isn’t it true that you spent some of your formative years in Aspen? How did you get your start? As a child, I always wanted to be a baseball player and was supposed to move to Japan from Korea to train for baseball. One day, my father told us that we were moving to Aspen. I didn’t even know where it was and had to look on a map. At the time I did not speak English, so as a young teenager moving to a new country and not knowing the language, it was a difficult transition for me. In Aspen, all the cool kids were snowboarders, so I learned snowboarding to make friends and eventually became a professional sponsored snowboarder. I ended up suffering some injuries and realistically didn’t think snowboarding would be long term. There was a local restaurant where all the cool people hung out to drink and have fun. I knew the owner and asked him for a job, and he started me at the lowest position. I learned every aspect of the business and grew from there.
How do you want guests to feel when they walk into one of your restaurants? I want guests to feel like they are a part of my life through my cuisine. The cuisine on my menu has traditional dishes and some with twists, and menu items from my childhood and global travels, both as a snowboarder and professional chef.
Angry Yellowtail dish.
What do you use as inspiration when creating your menus? I use everything from my life experiences and from different cultures and experiences. Even sounds and textures are important to the overall dining experience. What I enjoy most now is constantly getting inspiration from my daughter, watching her grow up and have her own life experiences, and witnessing the flavors she enjoys.
What dishes are you most proud of? I am proud of all dishes as they take so much time and effort to create and perfect as well as execute in my restaurants all over the world. Some of my favorites are the Akira Back tuna pizza as this is a bestseller and also copied by many others; Jeju Domi, which takes me back to my childhood as I did not like raw fish and this taught me to enjoy it; and the 48-hour short ribs as this is my twist on a dish that my mother would make for me when I was younger.
Jeju Domi with snapper and marinated masago and spicy Korean chojang sauce
Congratulations on opening your newest location in South Florida. How are you fitting into the culinary scene? With our ideal location in The Ray Hotel, we knew our sophisticated dining experience would be aligned with the clientele visiting the area. Menin Development has been instrumental in shaping the direction of the hospitality scene in Delray Beach and elevating offerings for locals and visitors, and we are thrilled to bring our first Akira Back restaurant in South Florida to this exciting destination.
Akira Back restaurant in Delray Beach, Fla.
Your restaurant portfolio is on fire and you keep expanding. What’s on the horizon? Up next, we have some more exciting openings in the U.S. in Dallas and San Francisco, as we also continue our growth in the Middle East. I am very excited to open later this summer in London. We are doing the entire food and beverage program of a five-star hotel with multiple brands and cuisine concepts. The hotel is confidential for now, but this will be announced very soon.
Photography by: PHOTO BY ERIC GEORGE; FOOD PHOTO BY GIOVANNI LEDON; RESTAURANT PHOTO COURTESY OF THE RAY HOTEL