Akira Back reveals all about his new Dubai restaurant

The Las Vegas chef has opened up a new outpost at W Dubai – The Palm

Akira Back reveals all about his new Dubai restaurant

Risk-taker, revolutionary, rebel. Three words that perfectly sum up Akira Back, the Las Vegas chef with an attitude as eclectic as his award-winning dishes.

Born in Korea and raised in Aspen, Colorado, this chef is not only a culinary genius, he’s basically a rockstar, and he’s got the “Back-story” to prove it.

From hurtling down mountains at eye-watering speeds (he was a professional snowboarder back in the day), to being spurned by his family for his rebellious ways, Back’s journey to internationally-acclaimed chef has been anything but ordinary – a bit like the man himself.

When we sit down with the 45-year-old chef at swanky new hotel W Dubai – The Palm, the home of his brand-new restaurant Akira Back – W Dubai, Back’s fresh from the gym in trainers and surfer shorts (despite “researching” the city’s nightlife scene the previous evening).

Akira (or Du Sang Dog, to use his snowboarding name), is in the city for just short of a week to officially open his innovative Asian fusion restaurant on the Palm’s West Crescent, in an area that has become increasingly populated with celebrity chefs.

Opening in the same hotel as Akira is Torno Subito, the first restaurant in the Middle East from Italian culinary giant, Massimo Bottura (the man behind the world’s number one restaurant of 2018, Osteria Francescana), not that the competition phases Back, whose restaurant Dosa, in Seoul, won a Michelin star in 2017.

“For me it’s an honour as a chef. I’ve never met him. He’s an OG right (original gangster), so to meet him would be awesome for me,” says Back.

“I’d love to shake his hand and say ‘thank you’ because without them there’s no us. They did everything for us in terms of starting trends and showing us how to go global.”

It’s not a surprising response from the laid-back chef, who clearly enjoys the good things in life, though it was a shy and lonely teenager who first moved to America aged 13, and latched onto a group of snowboarders because they were “cool”.

“I could barely speak English or even say ‘hi’ and that age is a very shy age,” laughs Back, at the memory.

“I’d see these guys with blue mohawks and nose piercings and I thought it was so cool. I wanted to be friends with them so I followed them around and that’s how I originally got into snowboarding.”

A professional career followed, with Back gracing the covers of extreme sporting magazines and even making an appearance in adventure movies.

It was during this time that he started working in a sushi restaurant aged 19, to supplement his earnings, much to the fury of his father, who had intended for him to take over the family ski-wear business.

“He was so angry that he didn’t speak to me for a year,” says Back. “He wouldn’t even eat breakfast with me – I had never seen him so mad.”

Unbeknown to Mr Back senior, his contempt was the driving force that his son needed to keep him in the kitchen.

“That’s why I never gave up cooking. If he was actually happy for me. I would have quit before I’d even started,” says Back.

“It was the worst job. I hated it for three years, but luckily I persevered. I’d never cooked in my life before I went into that kitchen, but the last thing I wanted to hear was for him to say ‘I told you so’.

“Without that I don’t think I would be here.”

After a difficult start, Back eventually began to fall in love with cooking and to feel the same thrill in the kitchen as he did out on the snowboarding slopes.

Now 26 years later, he’s adding Dubai to a list of restaurants that spans across continents, and the cavernous, artistic space is “pretty awesome” to use the words of the chef himself.

A private elevator gives way to a mesmerising tunnel, opening up into an industrial-looking dining-room with open cooking stations to make you feel like “being at the movies”.

Art from Back’s mother covers everything from the walls to the cutlery and plates (be careful, he once banned a diner from all of his restaurants for criticising his mum’s work), and the adjoining terrace is a sight for sore eyes – and that’s before you even get to appreciating those views.

In terms of the menu, Back intends to create somewhere that meat-eaters, pescatarians, vegans – whoever – can sit down together and enjoy a delicious meal without the fuss (though he recommends you try the tuna pizza).

And have his parents changed their mind about his chosen career path? “Yes, they love it”, he smiles. And diners do, too.
Open now, daily 7pm-1am. W Dubai – The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 245 5555).

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