Jeninne John 

The globetrotting chef can’t stop opening restaurants all over the world.

Andy Wang
November 13, 2017

When chef Akira Back heard that the Michelin Guide was coming to his native South Korea, he knew it was time to get to work.

A former professional snowboarder who went on to become a highly respected chef at celebrity-friendly, nightlife-adjacent Las Vegas restaurants, Back had long been accustomed to crazy days and nights. But he knew that Seoul was where he would embark on the wildest ride of his life.

He scrambled to find a space and ending up securing a location near his childhood home. He dug into his bank account, he got help from his father, he hired workers and oversaw the buildout. Back is a chef who’s used to running massive restaurants with deep-pocketed partners that pay for everything, but the restaurant he opened in Seoul last year is a modest DIY endeavor. Dosa is a deeply personal, 35-seat restaurant where Back serves modern Korean tasting menus.

Jeninne John 

At Dosa, Back uses Iberico poker for bo ssam. He makes foie gras pies with gochujang caramel and Korean wildberry jam. He cooks lobster with fried spring onions and a Korean herb beurre blanc. Like he’s known for in Vegas, he tops pizza with tuna sashimi.

Back opened Dosa in a hurry, so he admits he made mistakes along the way. For example, he didn’t fully consider things like the high rent he’s paying.

Meanwhile, he’s gotten some flack from locals who don’t think tuna sashimi pizza is in any way Korean. But Back isn’t backing down from his food. He says he’ll always have a fancy pizza at Dosa, maybe alternating from truffles and mushrooms to whitefish to caviar to eggplant.

“The food at Dosa is me,” he says. “Every single thing on the menu is really me. It’s my tastes. I feel bad for the chefs and cooks here. They’ll have a really cool idea, but I try not to listen because I want to make the food exactly what I’ve been dreaming about.”

Jeninne John 

Last week, Back was awarded for his efforts with a Michelin star in Seoul’s Michelin Guide. It’s the culmination of a longtime dream for a chef who knew that coming home to South Korea would be his best chance at a star. He had seen the Michelin Guide come and go in Vegas, and he wasn’t missing his shot in Seoul.

“I always wanted to do fine, fine dining,” Back says. “I grew up reading [the Michelin Guides]. I always wanted to be part of them. This is going to make me a more humble person and I’m going to study more.”

Dosa is part of Back’s intense international expansion. Since 2014, he’s been opening modern Korean and Japanese restaurants along with lounges and steakhouses at a rapid clip while continuing to run Yellowtail and Kumi in Las Vegas. His empire now includes two restaurants in Jakarta and a restaurant in Singapore along with Dosa.

And he’s just getting started.

“Next month, we’re opening in Toronto,” Back says. “One month after that is Bangkok, One month after that is Hanoi. Then one month later, we open one more in Singapore. Then we open in Dubai. It’s going to be a crazy five months. And after we got the Michelin star, I have to be at Dosa a little more often. It’s going to be challenging, but I love the challenge.”