Early this year, celebrity chef Akira Back launched his first Canadian restaurant. His eponymous eatery at the newly unveiled luxury boutique hotel Bisha Hotel Toronto showcases Back’s elegant fusion of Japanese, Korean and American cuisine, influenced heavily by his equally unique background and culinary experience.
Born in Korea and raised in Aspen, Colorado, Back was first a professional snowboarder, traveling and competing on the professional circuit. Once he retired from shredding on the slopes in the early 1990s, he headed for the kitchen.
After culinary school, he would go on to appear on Food Network’s Iron Chef, travel extensively through Japan and Europe, study under chef Masaharu Morimoto and become the youngest executive chef for Nobu Matsuhisa, taking charge in the kitchen at Nobu in Aspen. He’d eventually branch out onto his own and start a culinary empire that has reached Miami, Dubai, Jakarta and numerous delicious destinations in between.
So, what inspired this globetrotting gourmand to open an eatery north of the border? “Toronto is a cultural epicenter with a diverse and multicultural food scene, which is why I always hoped to have a restaurant here,” Back says.
On the menu at the new Canadian outpost, you’ll find the chef’s signature dishes, like the thin and crispy tuna pizza with micro shiso and the jeju domi: Korean snapper wrapped around orange-infused tobiko (Japanese flying fish roe) accented with spicy and sweet Korean gochujang chili paste. An omakase tasting menu also launched in June.
But Back isn’t merely an expert in preparing Asian cuisine; he’s also a reliable source when it comes to eating it. When he’s craving comfort food in his home of Las Vegas, for example, Back hits up Hobak Korean BBQ. This off-strip eatery is the kind of spot where you’ll only find locals and in-the-know tourists. For the chef, it’s certainly about the familiarity and tradition of Korean barbecue, but he adds, “this type of concept always brings people closer together and sparks interaction because of the fact that food is cooking at the center of the table.”
When it’s time to work off the bulgogi and short ribs, Back goes back to his winter sports roots and hits the slopes. But instead of this Colorado-bred chef listing Aspen or Vail as his favorite place for skiing, he actually names Montana as his top spot for shredding powder. And it’s no surprise — home to Snowbowl (a 7,600-foot summit with a 2,600-foot vertical drop), the Western state offers at least 100 mountain ranges, all worthy of exploration by foot, bike or board.
Ironically enough, though, Back enjoys the sand as much as he does sky-high summits. His beach holiday of choice is the Maldives. The idyllic tropical island in the Indian Ocean offers sparkling turquoise waters and blue lagoons with stunning reefs that attract avid divers from around the world, along with honeymooners looking to stay in an Instagram-worthy villa perched over the sea.
But when it comes to naming his favorite hotel in the world, Back treks to Europe. “Sani Resort in Greece would trump all the hotel experiences I’ve had,” he says.
Situated on a 1,000-acre, family-owned ecological reserve, this multi-hotel property is framed by the sparkling Aegean Sea on one side, juxtaposed against the pine forests of the Kassandra peninsula on the other. Located near Thessaloniki and overlooking Mount Olympus, the resort allows you to explore nearby wetlands, stunning beaches and natural forests by day while taking in top-notch Mediterranean cuisine at night.
With chef Back, the journey always centers around great food.