Last Bite: Akira Back on his upcoming Dubai concept
Why did you enter the food & beverage industry?
My life story is pretty funny. I actually played baseball and wanted to be a baseball player. I was going to go to Japan for my baseball, but my father moved us to Aspen, Colorado when I was 14 years old. I saw whom I thought were the ‘cool kids’ snowboarding and skateboarding and I picked up snowboarding really fast. I took part in competitions, but not wanting to waste my father’s money, I was a great student and went to work at a restaurant called Kenichi. Three years later, I started falling in love with cooking. I wish I had a story where I said, ‘oh I picked up a knife and knew’.
But what caused you to fall in love with it?
The freedom and intensity in the kitchen. It almost felt like I was playing baseball again. You can make your own style of food and make somebody happy. It’s a really cool job and I love it more as I get older.
What are the important lessons you have learned over the years that you’d like to share?
The most important thing is the kitchen. Stay there at least for six or seven years because it takes a long time to become a chef. Sometimes I think I’m still just a cook because I’m learning a lot even now. I don’t think you can just say you were born at being good as a chef. It’s a long journey. You have to understand everything — how many people know how to wash dishes? It’s very important! That will actually help you to cook. To become a better chef, you have to understand front-of-house as well.
Any chefs you looked up to?
Before it was people like Nobu-san [Nobuyuki Matsuhisa], Alain Ducasse, Joël Robuchon — all those guys who you read about. They’re still my heroes but I admire my chefs more because they’re doing the exact same thing over and over again and they’re doing it really well.
Do you feel the pressure when it comes to winning awards?
Before I didn’t actually care at all. But once you get it, the pressure is on. People look at you different. But we are doing the exact same thing. It’s funny in a sad way because we make the exact same things as before, but the initial feedback was ‘what is this?’ After the award, they tell me that it’s great!
How do you choose the location for your restaurants?
The most important thing is local food, and local environment. If I like the local food then my palate is very close to them. When we choose the location, we ask, ‘what is the most popular local restaurant?’ We eat, we study, we watch the customer, we see how they eat, we see what music they listen to. But Dubai has always been my dream for a long time. A lot of people are watching Dubai now —and now I see Dubai as a gate to Europe.
Tell us about the Dubai restaurant?
The Akira Back menu is the same. The crew is coming here. They’ve been with me for almost 10 or 11 years. They have already been here and have seen the space, and now they are so excited to move out here. That’s the one thing that I think is a key to our success — we send people and they live there. We’ll have about 30 people overall.
What will your new restaurant offer its guests?
Whoever comes to Akira Back, I want them to know one thing: whether you’re vegan, or a meat-eater, or a pescatarian, it’s the perfect place to come. I want you to come and mingle. Don’t worry about anything.
Where else in the world are you working on projects?
This year we’re working on Hanoi, Korea, Bali, then we will finish with Dubai.
Is there anything you haven’t done yet that you would like to do?
Fun fried chicken.