Akira Back, executive chef of Yellowtail at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, was recently profiled on Korean lifestyle channel O’live TV’s Great Chef, a series exploring the kitchens of four Korean chefs—among them Belgium’s Sang-hoon Degeimbre, Austria’s Kim Sohyi, and San Francisco’s Cory Lee. In the hour-long episode, Back (whom we raved about last year) gave viewers a tour of his signature dishes and explained his eclectic and musical food style.
Wearing his chef’s uniform (army cargo pants and bright blue sneakers – clearly reminding us of his blue-haired pro snowboarding past), Back clarified that he is more than just a Japanese cuisine chef: “I have my own style. [...] When I make something, I can say this: ingredient-driven, taste will be Korean American with Japanese ethics. So I combined all the techniques together and I made it my original taste.”
One of the dishes that showcases his originality is the Big-Eye Tuna Pizza.
Illustrating it as a melting pot of flavors, Back picked the fusion pizza dish as his most “Las Vegas-ish” dish because of the gambles (the flavor changes depending on the angle and area you eat it from) and illusions (the layers are semi see through, so you see something, but not really) the diner will experience while eating the dish.
Back is also big on music. He cites David Guetta’s “I Gotta Feeling” as having an enormous influence on his energy in the kitchen and his “food orchestrating.” At one point during the show, he described an octopus tentacle and a half-peeled tomato as “dancing” to the “music” on his dish.
By using crunchy cucumber and onions, crispy tortillas, and crackling popping candy, Back said he tries to emulate the pumping bass sounds in Guetta’s song onto his dishes. He continued on to say that he does not want his diner to merely taste the food from her/his mouth, he wants them to “eat again” with their ears, too: “Every human is going to taste no matter what because everyone has a tongue. So they’ll start eating it, but if there’s no sound, you’re just eating it. So I put the crunch, so you can hear the stuff, and so you’re eating again in your ears.”
Speaking of Korean food, he chose gochujang as the ingredient that best represents Korea and picked his Braised Kobe Beef Short Ribs—a dish inspired by his mother’s galbijjim recipe—as one his more Korean dishes. When asked whose galbijjim is better (his or his mother’s), he, without any hesitation, said his mom’s.
Watch the full episode of Great Chef featuring Akira Back (note: it’s in Korean):