From working under Chef Gray Kunz at the famed Lespinasse, to being the Executive Chef at Tabla, a contemporary Indian restaurant in New York, to winning the third season of Top Chef Masters, 57-year-old celebrity chef Floyd Cardoz has done it all. Yet, his hunger for new challenges is insatiable.
He is happy to shuttle between the US, where he has been living since 1988, and India to oversee his two restaurants in Mumbai — The Bombay Canteen which he opened in 2015, and O Pedro in 2017, along with partners Yash Bangage and Sameer Seth. In all the decades that he has been away from India and lived in New York, he has been trying to change the image of Indian food and create awareness about its diversity. “Most diners in New York City think of Indian cuisine as saag paneer, chicken tikka masala and naan, but we all know it is more than that. Indian food is regional and there is so much more to showcase. I believe if you are firm with your messaging and explain the food well—in terms of where it comes from—the food has more meaning,” he says.
Serving spiced pumpkin soup with New Jersey ricotta among many other dishes to the then President of United States, Barack Obama, was among one of the memorable moments of his life, which he cherishes fondly.
But his culinary journey began closer home. Cardoz grew up in upscale Bandra in Mumbai (then Bombay) in the 1970s. Although food was always on his mind, somehow he had never considered a career in it. While faithfully pursuing bio-chemistry, as he was good at academics, Cardoz chanced upon Arthur Hailey’s book titled Hotel and decided to enroll into the Institute of Hotel Management (IHM), Mumbai, and subsequently Les Roches Switzerland to further hone his skills and get international exposure.
His fascination with food developed when he was young. While other boys his age played football in Goa, he learnt to make perfect omelettes during a summer vacation spent at his grandmother's home. “All my summer memories are based around food and the time we spent in Goa in our backyard around the mango and jackfruit trees, running around and passing the time enjoying the season with no TVs, Game Boys or iPhones,” recalls Chef Cardoz.
He adds, “I used to love watching the fishermen pull in their boats on the beach, nets full, while we bought the freshest catch and watched grandmom and mama spoil us with the best spread at every meal. Apart from this, the summers in Goa were characterised by the smell of wood cooking fires, which transport me back to a life less complicated and more family-orientated.” His heart still beats for the state, and on every trip to India, a quick visit to the state and a plate full of local food is a must.
Prior to opening O Pedro, he took a long trip to Portugal, which served as an eye-opener. It put into perspective several things about Goa which have always been a part of his life. “So many things suddenly acquired a new meaning as I understood the reason behind them. The similarities between Portugal and Goa are striking,” explains Cardoz.
He is in India once every quarter. During this visit, he is revamping the O Pedro menu along with Chef Hussain Shahzad and his team, who run the show in Mumbai. Cardoz is clear that local summer ingredients such as raw mango and bimli have to be an intrinsic part of the menu, and the team has been having fun in the kitchen experimenting with them. “O Pedro has completed six months, settled down as a brand and been received well by patrons, so now we are ready to further experiment,” he gushes.
Goan Saraswat food, although immensely varied and flavourful, does not find a place in most restaurant menus. Chef Cardoz plans to remedy that, albeit with his characteristic inventive streak. He has included Saraswat Goan pink beans & potato koftas Ton-Dak, Panji green watana rassa with bhaturas and raw mango Udda-Methi in his menu. In fact, there is a separate menu for vegetarians too, as an ode to the Goud Saraswat Brahmin community.
He may have unwittingly started several trends with The Bombay Canteen and now, O Pedro too, but trends do not matter to him. He avers, “I cook with passion. Trends are short lived and pass. Food that has substance and soul is what matters, because trends often do not have a true connection.”
Small plates figure on the menu of every restaurant in India today, but Chef Cardoz still does not consider them to be a trend. He explains, “We are trying to normalise the way we eat. Many guests like to try many dishes. When we had larger families, we had smaller quantities of many dishes, now that families are smaller, I find that small plates are user-friendly, so smaller groups can enjoy their meal. We give our guests the opportunity to enjoy and share more dishes. Small plates help provide this experience.”
Using local seasonal ingredients and always being true to the flavours is a promise he unflinchingly delivers. The seeds of this practice were sown in his childhood when he went to the Mapusa Saturday market with his parents and watched the vendors unload and sell local produce — vegetables, fruits, spices, meat, dry fish, chorizo. Subconsciously, he imbibed a love for all things fresh.
While other chefs opt for zucchinis and asparagus, Cardoz prefers to celebrate the lesser-known ingredients in India — green bajra, amaranth leaves or even fish like mackerel.
He can still picture himself having pez or red rice kanji on his grandmother's dining table in Goa. Only after finishing this would he be served his favourite fish curry and rice, preapred by her. “She was a fabulous cook and my love for food comes from her,” he reminisces. His love for fish curry and rice has not diminished. He can’t wait to visit Goa on the weekend and gorge on his favourite comfort food, which opens a floodgate of memories.
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Updated Date: Apr 30, 2018 17:05:21 IST