CHEF Akira Back had no desire to be in the kitchen.
For three years he endured his time with knives and stoves, and after that testing period, found he had what it takes to make a living of it.
Back has been at it for 21 years and after his initial dislike for the culinary arts, he found himself liking it more. “You keep doing it and you start to like the challenge of it,” he explains.
Mixing his business instincts with his innovative nature, the strapping American chef of Korean extraction decided to set up a restaurant empire.
By the end of 2018, he will have 14 restaurants serving up Korea-flavoured fare. Boosted by the K-Wave of pop music and TV serials, the desire for kimchi, bulgogi and bibimbap has spread into more adventurous iterations.
And some deceptive dishes.
“We have Korean flavour, but the food doesn’t look like it’s Korean. We have eggs that look like eggs but taste like dessert, or kimchi flavours without fermentation,” Back says.
Many of Back’s creations are inspired by his travels.
“I went backpacking when I was 17 years old. I went to Europe from Aspen, Colorado, where I was living. I hated it because my friends travelling with me couldn’t eat a lot of the food.”
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With that experience in mind, Back worked on making the food sexier, even the vegan food.
The success of that formula has seen his food grow in popularity, and he has earned a Michelin Star for his restaurant DOSA, in his hometown, Seoul, South Korea.
Another four restaurants in the US will be added to the stable by the end of 2019, and he will have 3,000 people in his employ.
In Singapore, his restaurant at the JW Marriott South Beach sees a steady flow of customers, many repeats — more than 40%.