From Mountain Terrain to the Culinary Domain
Chef Akira Back comes from a background that spans South Korea, Japan and the U.S. and crosses the domains of baseball, snowboarding and cooking. Back was born in 1974 as Sung Ook Back in Seoul, Korea. He pursued his love for baseball at a young age by moving to Japan, where a family friend gave him the nickname “Akira,” as the Japanese name shares the same Chinese characters as “Ook.” In 1989, his father’s business took their family to the U.S., where his snowboarding career began at the age of 15 in Aspen, Colorado. He then spent seven years as a professional snowboarder, where he appeared in extreme sports movies and was featured in the top snowboarding publications. His career then took a new path after studying at the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Colorado as a sushi prep cook at Kenichi in Aspen, followed by Austin, Texas and then as an opening chef in Kona, Hawaii. He continued his culinary education by studying under top celebrity chefs and industry leaders including Masaharu Morimoto and Brian Nagao. In 2003, he returned to Aspen as Executive Chef of Nobu. In 2008, he opened his first restaurant — Yellowtail Japanese Restaurant & Lounge, Chef Akira Back at Bellagio Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. The restaurant’s Japanese cuisine has attracted various celebrity clientele including Taylor Swift, P!nk, Kelly Osbourne and Joe Jonas. He has appeared on television in the U.S. on Iron Chef America, The Today Show and The Best Thing I Ever Ate, as well as on South Korea onKBS’s Success Mentor. Chef Akira Back is now going international with Akira Back restaurants opening in New Delhi and Jakarta. Back took a few moments from his busy schedule to talk about his shift in careers and new projects with Seoul Journal.