Korean-American chef Akira Back (Sung Ook Back) opened his first restaurant in Florida, at Delray Beach’s The Ray Hotel, on March 25. Located between Boca Raton and Palm Beach, Akira Back Delray is the 18-year-old professional snowboarder turned chef.and restaurant, adding to the cities of Paris, Las Vegas, Dubai, Beverly Hills, San Diego, Toronto, Singapore and Seoul, to name a few. (His restaurant Dosa in Seoul received a Michelin star in 2018.)
Born in Seoul, Back and his family moved to Aspen, Colorado when he was 13 and didn’t speak a word of English. “I didn’t even know how to say, ‘How are you?'” he wonders. “So when I moved, it was a culture shock.” He turned to snowboarding for the sole purpose of making friends and learning the language, but ended up competing professionally for several years. At the age of 19, he started working for sushi master Kenichi Kanada in Aspen, where he learned the hard way to “respect the rice.” He spent seven years training in Japanese cuisine.
“[Although] I learned Japanese cuisine, I couldn’t deny my palate,” Back shares. “I’m very Korean-American. I grew up eating my mother’s food and I still eat my mother’s food. I wanted to do this with my personal touch. This is why the backbone of Akira Back’s cuisine is “modern Japanese with Korean accents”.
At the Delray location, diners can expect popular signatures like the AB Tuna Pizza, topped with umami aioli, micro shisho and white truffle oil; Jeju Domi, which incorporates its Korean heritage with pickled masago, red sorrel and chojang; and Lobster Tempura, with Korean pear, serrano, beet and Amazu ponzu. Signature sushi rolls include Pop Rockin’ (spicy crab, cucumber, asparagus—and yes, watermelon pop rocks!); Perfect Storm (shrimp tempura, spicy tuna, aburi salmon belly, and chipotle mayo); and Hot Mess (crab tempura, sashimi poke and spicy ponzu aioli). They also offer Nazo 9, the chef’s signature mystery box of tableside sashimi and sushi.
Due to the South Florida location, Back plans to inject his signature AB cigar dessert with the lime pie filling. He adds that in two to three months they will also add a catch of the day.
“I’ve been coming to Delray for a long time,” he shares. “I have a lot of friends here and it’s a good community for tennis.” Back is an avid tennis player and plays the sport with his 10-year-old daughter.
The main dining area, designed by Celano Design Studios, is clad in undulating teak panels and is anchored by three curved wooden truss structures. The semi-open kitchen includes sushi and robata grill counters. The artwork of Back’s mother, Young-Hee Back, is fashioned on the wall tiles, sofa fabrics and plates. “All my restaurants have my mother’s art,” he shares. “It’s a signature item.” Back adds that they have just built their dream family home together in Las Vegas, where he has been based for 15 years since opening his first restaurant, Yellowtail Japanese Restaurant and Lounge.
Back makes sure to visit each location several times a year. With 18 restaurants and 12 more openings planned by the end of 2024, what is the secret of Akira Back’s success? “No one believes when I say [that] you must be very blessed and lucky, and somehow you want to bring luck into your life,” he shares. “You have to follow your dreams, you have to be passionate about what you do. You have to be surrounded by people who are better than you. All my bosses are better than me. I have to hire better people than me to [make it work]. I really believe it is [the secret of] my success – I truly hire the best of the best.
Akira Back Delray is located on the ground floor of The Ray Hotel (by Menin Development), 233 NE 2nd Ave., Delray Beach, FL 33444. For more information, visit www.akirabackdelray.com Where www.akiraback.com