Floyd Cardoz Showed the World India’s Big Flavours, Bold Spices

A fan of Goan cuisine, a loving son, husband and father, a cheerful and affectionate friend, and, of course, a globally renowned chef; that is the Floyd Cardoz that all the world will remember.  The novel coronavirus has robbed us of a great man, but his beautiful legacy will live on forever.

He was born in Mumbai, and raised both there and in Goa. In a 2017 CBS interview, Cardoz said, "I wanted to be a biochemist. Then I read 'Hotel' by Arthur Hailey. This is so much fun, because I loved food growing up. Then I started cooking and realized I was really good at it."

‘Really good’ is an understatement. After culinary school in India (where he met his wife, Barkha, at a hospitality course) and Switzerland, Cardoz moved to New York. There along with Danny Meyer, he established the hugely popular Indian restaurant Tabla. He was critically acclaimed and won Bravo’s third season of “Top Chef Masters”.

He opened Pao Walla in NYC’s Soho neighbourhood, and also Bombay Bread Bar (which closed last year). He founded and co-owned three restaurants in his hometown back in Mumbai, which are a rage throughout India - Bombay Canteen, O Pedro and Bombay Sweet Shop (for whose opening he was in India earlier this month).

Cardoz wrote “One spice, two spice: American food, Indian flavours” and “Floyd Cardoz: Flavorwalla: Big Flavor. Bold Spices. A New Way to Cook the Foods You Love.” He was well-known for his delicate—and delicious—entwining of Indian, French and American flavours, in iconic dishes like the Watermelon Curry, resulting in a uniquely global blend rooted in Indian flavour, the first person to bring his native Indian taste to American fine dining. Critic Ruth Reichl, in her review of Tabla for the New York Times, wrote: "This is American food, viewed through a kaleidoscope of Indian spices. The flavours are so powerful, original and unexpected that they evoke intense emotions."

Unknown to many, he was also a strong advocate for vegetarianism, saying “Plant forward eating is the way of the future. We can’t eat as much meat as we used to. It’s bad for the planet. When will people learn?”

Cardoz always had a soft spot for Goan food; he said on Instagram about his favourite haunt Highway Gomantak: “Goan food is one of my favourite cuisines. Before we opened @bombay_canteen we were researching Indian food and were looking for inspiration. We wanted to give our guests the best possible expressions of Indian food we could find. I was introduced to this joint… It’s been a love affair ever since and I try to stop by at HY every time I am in Mumbai. This coastal seafood gem serves Goan/coastal cuisine that is slightly different from what my family cooked growing up. This restaurant has never disappointed me in all the years of eating here.” Another favourite food of his was Undhiyu, a Gujarati dish not often seen in restaurants, cooked in winter when most vegetables are in their primary growing season.

Chef Floyd Cardoz on Basics with Babish as they make 3 different Indian breads: naan, roti, and lachha paratha.

https://youtu.be/RnApthldLPY

Floyd Cardoz made friends wherever he went. Chef Gray Kunz, the reason Cardoz moved to New York, was one of them. Cardoz said earlier this month on Kunz’s death, “On my last week at Lespinasse Chef Gray Kunz asked me what gift I would like. I told him I needed none, as he had given me many gifts for the 6.5 years with him that would serve me all my life. The day I left Chef gave me one of his first knives. A gift I treasure every day.”

Cardoz added: Rest in Peace You were the greatest chef I know. Thank you for giving me the gift of finding myself in my cooking. You thought (sic) me how to cook and helped me be the chef I am today."

Danny Meyer with whom he opened and closed two restaurants says of him:  “Few people have done more than Floyd to impact an entire industry, the career trajectories of more cooks, or the palates of more restaurant goers. He was beyond talented as a cook.”

Danny Meyer (left) with Cardoz (second from right)

While a citizen of the world, Cardoz retained a strong sense of his Indian identity: “Unfortunate as most don’t know, many Indians also fought for the British Army in WWI, including my grandfather’s brother, who got a medal for fighting in the ‘Great War of Independence’.”

Many of Cardoz’s employees in his restaurants were immigrants too. He said, “Most of my co-workers, delivery people and farm help are also immigrants. We can’t get American born workers to do these jobs.”

Described by host of Top Chef, Padma Lakshmi, as having “an impish smile, an innate need to make those around him happy, and a delicious touch”, Floyd Cardoz is mourned the world over as tributes rushed in after his passing away on 25 March 2020 at the age of 59.

“Floyd did so much to advance the cause of Indian food and Indian people in America,” says Priya Krishna, an Indian-American food writer. “He was generous, funny, and warm, and I've always wished I could turn back time and eat at Tabla.”

'Plating' with accuracy

Chef Meherwan Irani of Chai Pani Restaurant Group says: “Rarely is there such a clear inflection point, a distinct before and after moment, as there is in the impact of chef Cardoz on Indian cuisine in the U.S. He literally laid the groundwork for legitimizing the space that chefs of Indian origin now occupy on industry “best of” and awards lists around the world. And as if that wasn’t enough, he then redefined what an Indian restaurant could look like with Bombay Canteen and O Pedro in Mumbai. Modern Indian cuisine is what it is because of him, and his legacy as a trailblazer should never be forgotten by future generations of brown chefs — we owe that to him.”

Cardoz tested positive for COVID-19 on his return to the US from Mumbai, where he was filming the Netflix series “Ugly Delicious” with actor Aziz Ansari. He had admitted himself to the hospital on March 17, when he was feeling feverish. He even tweeted a selfie, apologizing for worrying everyone.

Like the aftertaste that lingers after a great dish, Floyd Cardoz’s contribution to the world will not be forgotten, his memory cherished by his mother, wife, two sons, friends, and all who knew and loved him.

As Dan Kluger, chef and owner of Loring Place remembers, besides the incredible moments, there are two things from Cardoz that he lives by and also perhaps by all those whose lives he touched - Always cook from the heart. If your heart isn’t in it, don’t do it.