… Life on a plate Akram Khan

My heart is In­dian but my stom­ach is Ja­panese, says the dancer and chore­og­ra­pher

The Observer Food Monthly - - CONTENTS - IN­TER­VIEW John Hind PHO­TO­GRAPH Perou

by my fa­ther for four months When five or six months old I was taken to Bangladesh or so to be pre­sented to his fam­ily, while my mother stayed in Wim­ble­don, quite trau­ma­tised. I’m not sure how I was fed. When I went back to Bangladesh as a boy, I re­mem­ber be­ing un­able to cope with the pow­dered milk there.

as a lit­tle boy was to taste things and this My mother says my strong­est cu­rios­ity caused great prob­lems – I’d clean stones of mud with my tongue and I’d eat worms. But my ear­li­est ac­tual mem­ory is of sit­ting in a pram, stick­ing my tongue out to catch snowflakes and be­ing very ex­cited by their tem­per­a­ture and taste­less­ness.

in the garage, prac­tis­ing dance I missed school for a year and each day I would hide moves. My par­ents were hor­ri­fied when they found out, but then ac­cepted dance was some­thing I had to do. So I stud­ied Kathak un­der the guru Sri Pratap Pawar. He was a won­der­ful cook; his spe­cial­ity was dal soup and he’d say, “As a dancer you need to un­der­stand the process of cook­ing.” It was his way of en­cour­ag­ing me to be pa­tient.

, be­ing treated like I’d been tour­ing the world with Peter Brook’s Ma­hab­harata roy­alty for 18 months. Then I got home, hit nor­mal life and couldn’t tol­er­ate it. I was 15 and my fa­ther said, “Come and work evenings in my (In­dian) restau­rant.” But he hated my wai­t­er­ing – how I’d prance around – and many cus­tomers thought it em­bar­rass­ing or just weird that I’d twirl when clear­ing their plates.

at De Mont­fort I needed to make money while study­ing con­tem­po­rary dance Univer­sity so worked as a pizza de­liv­ery boy, which re­ally put me off pizza. I shared my kitchen with stu­dents who never ti­died up. I’d spend all my time clean­ing be­fore cook­ing, then be so ex­hausted I’d re­sort to tinned food and boiled eggs.

partly be­cause I re­turned to live with my par­ents un­til I never re­ally learned to cook, I was 31 and mar­ried my first wife. It was fi­nan­cially eas­ier and also my mother is a fan­tas­tic cook, al­most as good as my fa­ther; she’s best at chicken biryani and he at lamb biryani. Last year, my sec­ond wife and I had our dream mar­ble kitchen built, but we still eat most evenings at my par­ents, who live on the next road.

my sec­ond wife (in 2012), The first time I saw green on my plate was af­ter mar­ry­ing who is Ja­panese. She’d serve me in­di­vid­ual veg­eta­bles, say­ing, “You must un­der­stand the taste of this broc­coli.” I be­came ob­sessed with green and with sashimi, which I had com­pared to bit­ing into a live cow. The qual­ity of Ja­panese food never makes my body work hard to digest it. I have an In­dian heart but a Ja­panese stom­ach. Akram Khan’s Giselle with the English Na­tional Bal­let is at Sadler’s Wells, Lon­don EC1 from 20-23 Septem­ber

‘When I was a waiter, cus­tomers thought it weird that I’d twirl when clear­ing plates’

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