Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Eva Longoria's Favourite Chef to Open Japanese Restaurant at Delhi’s J.W. Marriott

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

AKIRA BACK, the Korean American former executive chef of Matsuhisa Aspen, Matsuhisa Nobu’s namesake restaurant in the skiing resort town of Aspen, Colorado, will open Delhi’s newest Japanese restaurant, with a showpiece robatayaki grill and prized sake collection, a little after the curtains go up on the J.W. Marriott at the Aerocity some time in October.
Akira Back outside his restaurant, Yellowtail, at
the Bellagio in Las Vegas
Seoul-born, Aspen-raised Back, famous for his Japanese cuisine with a Korean American twist, is the culinary star of Las Vegas and a favourite of pop sensation Taylor Swift and Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria. He runs two acclaimed and highly successful restaurants in Vegas — Yellowtail at the Bellagio and Kumi at Mandalay Bay. His style of contemporary Japanese food served in a laidback setting is bound to find many takers in the hotel being promoted by the industry veteran and well-known environmentalist Sushil Gupta and his son Sandeep. The hotel, strategically located within easy driving distance from South Delhi, is owned by Aria Hotels and Consultancy Services, a subsidiary of Asian Hotels (West).
A former professional snowboarder in Aspen, Colorado, who has appeared in extreme sport movies, the Korean American, now 43, decided to become a chef to supplement his income while he was still pursuing his high-adrenaline career. His first job as chef was to expand Aspen’s Kenichi restaurant, which is highly acclaimed for its sushi, to Austin, Texas, and Kona, Hawaii. But it was only after he took charge of Matsuhisa Aspen’s kitchen that Back started getting noticed across the United States. He has been invited four times to cook a multi-course dinner at the prestigious James Beard House, which is considered a big honour in the U.S., and appeared in an episode of Iron Chef America as well as several other cookery shows across U.S. television channels.
Famous for his innovative twists to traditional Japanese cuisine, and his fanatical love for novel ingredients, Back will recreate the tastes and flavours Tokyo’s backstreets at his J.W. Marriott Aerocity restaurant. Tokyo’s backstreets are known for down-at-heel but hugely popular restaurants such as Maisen at Harajoku (famous for its tonkatsu, or deep-friend breaded pork cutlets drizzled with the addictive tonkatsu sauce) and Aoya at Nakameguro, where people go for the Korean hot pots and Kyoto-style vegetable preparations. Of course, given the talented chef’s background, the highlight of the restaurant, to be named Akira Back, will be to offer the best sushi and sake.
The restaurant is to be managed by Rajat Kalia, who was the opening manager of Megu at The Leela Palace in Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, after a short stint at Wasabi at The Taj Mahal Hotel, Mansingh Road. Few Indian managers (apart from Akshay Tripathi and Ankur Chawla, the opening manager of Wasabi and his successor respectively) know about 'global' Japanese cuisine as well as Kalia, whose knowledge of sushi and sake impressed even seasoned diners a Megu.
Kalia reports to Director of Restaurants Tarun Bhatia, who earned his spurs as opening manager of the Agni nightclub at The Park New Delhi, then moved to the Aman (now The Lodhi), where he became F&B Manager, and thereafter to Eros Managed by Hilton at Nehru Place.
The J.W. Marriott’s other restaurants are K3, an all-day restaurant serving three cuisines —Tuscan, Cantonese and Indian, and the “part coffee shop, part cake shop and part retail store” named Delhi Baking Company, whose big attraction, according to the hotel’s Director of Operations, the Austrian ex-chef and hotel openings expert Josef ‘Peppi’ Schuppler, will be the mithai with a western twist. The opening of a J.W. Marriott is a cause of excitement, but given the way the Aerocity story has panned out so far, let’s keep our finger crossed and hope for the best till the hotel officially welcomes its first guests.

Artist's impressions (left) of the upcoming Akira Back
restaurant at the J.W. Marriott, New Delhi Aerocity (above),
which is expected to open some time in October

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