Akira Back's journey from hating cooking to becoming a Michelin Star Chef
Dubai - The celebrity chef is now offering up his signature dishes alongside a ‘theatre’ experience in the UAE.
Back Seung Ook, or as the world knows him, Akira Back, never thought he would become a professional chef. “I never cooked in my entire life. My mom cooked for me, I was a very spoiled and lucky kid,” he tells City Times.
In fact, Akira hated cooking. It started with a random encounter with a restaurant owner in the US, when Akira asked him if he can work there. At the time, Akira was still trying to find his forte.
“My dad worked so hard for our family. I just did not want to burn the money, so did something I did not even know. And, when I worked there for three years, I absolutely hated it,” Akira said.
Pizza by Akira Back
The only reason Akira did not give up was to prove everyone wrong. “I did it just because everybody told me I cannot do it,” he said, adding that many, including his own family, were furious with the idea of him working at a restaurant.
And, that is Akira’s journey, from hating to cook to receiving a Michelin star, the ultimate honour for culinary excellence, for his restaurant Dosa in Seoul.
“It is a very big accomplishment for sure because I wanted to get it, I wanted to show I can cook,” said Akira, adding that it is an amazing feeling but it does not add pressure to his life in the kitchen.
Interestingly, Akira was a professional snowboarder before becoming a professional chef. It all started with Akira and his family moving to the US when he was in his early teenage years.
“I was absolutely shocked because I did not expect to go to the US. When I moved, I could not speak English and I saw these cool kids with their nose pierced and stylish hair,” said Akira, who did not even have the courage to go and talk to them.
Angry Chicken by Akira Back
“I just noticed and I watched them doing two things: skateboarding and snowboarding. Skateboarding, I couldn’t pick up fast enough but snowboarding, I picked up fast enough to be called a professional snowboarder and I started getting along with them.”
Now, Akira, who comes off as a really jolly person, continues to expand his global portfolio with more than fifteen restaurants currently open across the world. 12 more restaurants are scheduled to open through 2024.
His 20-year culinary experience, filled with countless accolades, is only fueled by his innovative touch to Asian cuisine with American influence. Looking back, Akira is content with his journey so far.
“I don’t regret any part of the past. I believe everything good or bad is a learning experience and has gotten me to where I am today,” he said.
For Akira, opening in a new market, or a location comes with challenges. “One of the fun challenges, when we open in a new market, is finding out what the people like in that area and region. This keeps us on our toes and we always learn more about people and food.”
Akira’s Dubai outpost
Dubai has been home to one of Akira’s restaurants for the past three years. Located at W Dubai, The Palm West in Palm Jumeirah, Akira Back brings you the chef’s adrenaline-fueled Japanese cuisine prepared with Korean and international flavours.
The dishes, derived from seasonal produce and artisanal sourced ingredients, can be enjoyed with the stunning views of the Dubai skyline.
“We have been lucky enough to really learn what flavours the people of Dubai enjoy,” Akira said. “We strive to be inclusive and have a really diverse range of dishes for everyone.”
Now, Akira’s fine dining will not be limited to his restaurant. The Michelin chef has collaborated with Vox Cinemas to bring his innovations to the Theatre, Vox’s luxury movie experience.
Apart from the usual caramel and cheese popcorn, nachos or your favourite soft drink, you can now get your hands on the exclusive culinary creations by Akira for the Theatre, available only in Mirdif City Centre, Mall of the Emirates and Nakheel Mall in Dubai.
Crispy Rice by Akira Back
The Theatre audience in Abu Dhabi will have to wait till October 10 to experience the same. Bringing fine dining to the theatre had been Akira’s dream for a long time.
“Both (Vox Cinemas and Akira) were headed for this idea for a long time. I have been wanting to do this but I didn’t know the right people,” Akira said.
“Luckily, I met a person from the company and we both had the same thing in mind.”
The new menu will feature a mix of Akira’s signature dishes including Akira Back Pizza, mouth-watering mains including Kimchi Fried Rice and Angry Chicken, AB Kiss, a dessert that looks almost too good to eat that will appeal to all foodies and movie lovers.
“We put a lot of thought into creating an impactful menu with bold flavours to compliment the Theater setting,” Akira said.
The Michelin Star signs off on the note that the pre-covid era is slowly marking its return as the rules and regulations ease up in Dubai and other parts of the world.
How much ever worse the pandemic was, especially for the restaurant industry, it taught us one important thing, that is hygiene.
“Now we understand the importance of hygiene..,” Akira said. “It is slowly going to go back and become the exact same as before.”
Origin of the name Akira Back
Originally named Back Seung Ook, he earned the nickname Akira at an early age in Korea.
Akira loves baseball and aspired to become a professional baseball player. But, it was hard for others to pronounce his name.
In Korea, people use Chinese characters for the names, and ‘Woo’ in Chinese characters means ‘Akira’. When people could not pronounce his name, Akira used to write ‘Woo’ in Chinese characters and that earned him the nickname.