How chef Floyd Cardoz shaped Indian cuisine, from his New York restaurant Tabla to Mumbai's The Bombay Canteen

What’s often overlooked is how Floyd Cardoz opened the doors for Indian cuisine to move beyond immigrant food and into the world of fine-dining. Chefs like Vikas Khanna and Srijith Gopinath have become increasingly visible in the US with both winning accolades, including from Michelin for their respective eateries. These doors have been opened thanks to Cardoz’s patience and ability to clearly explain the nuances that ground Indian food to the outside world.

Aatish Nath March 26, 2020 13:53:15 IST
How chef Floyd Cardoz shaped Indian cuisine, from his New York restaurant Tabla to Mumbai's The Bombay Canteen

Much has been written about Tabla, chef Floyd Cardoz's New York City restaurant, that ran from 1998 and 2010. More recently, since 2015, Cardoz's restaurants in Mumbai – first the Bombay Canteen, then O Pedro and just this month, the Bombay Sweet Shop — also received a fair amount of attention.

Chef Floyd Cardoz of The Bombay Canteen succumbs to COVID-19 in New York

While in Manhattan, Cardoz had to educate diners about the nuances of cooking with spices and showcase that Indian food can be updated with American ingredients and French technique. Manu Chandra, chef-partner at Toast and Tonic, Monkey Bar and The Fatty Bao, said, “Whilst Floyd himself maintained that Tabla was not 'Indian' Indian, it was a lot of his French teachings blended with his Goan upbringing and Indian influences — it was never meant to be an all-out Indian restaurant. It was always a finer endeavour on his part."

Closer home, the restaurants Cardoz was associated with (he was co-partner at Hunger Inc – the company behind the aforementioned concepts) made regional Indian food de rigueur, inspiring a host of other openings that looked to popularise and recreate homestyle dishes from different parts of the country.

How chef Floyd Cardoz shaped Indian cuisine from his New York restaurant Tabla to Mumbais The Bombay Canteen

Chef Floyd Cardoz. Image courtesy: Tejal Pandey

On that journey, Cardoz seems to have made only friends, as the outpouring of condolences since the announcement of his death makes clear. In between, he’s been a contestant and eventual winner on Top Chef Masters, worked as a consultant for the 2014 movie The Hundred-Foot Journey and written two cookbooks — One Spice, Two Spice (2006) and Flavourwalla (2016). Most recently, he took viewers from all over the world to Lucknow, on Netflix’s Ugly Delicious, in their episode about Indian food.

Restaurateur and Ugly Delicious host David Chang tweeted:

Cardoz passed away at Mountainside Medical Centre, New Jersey after he tested positive for COVID-19 last week. He is survived by his mother Beryl, wife Barkha, and sons Justin and Peter. He was in Mumbai at the beginning of the month to celebrate the fifth anniversary of The Bombay Canteen and unveil Bombay Sweet Shop, a new mithai concept from the group.

With his ability to reinterpret and tweak traditional Indian dishes Cardoz was ahead of the curve as he seamlessly fused Indian and Western before foams and spherification made ‘fusion’ a bad word. Having studied in culinary school in both India and Switzerland, he was able to blend elements from each on a plate, or in a meal — giving diners both the familiar and unfamiliar without alienating Americans who knew Indian only as curry, or Indians who had grown up on traditional fare. When fine-dining gave way to casual, he was able to change with the times, with his Manhattan eatery Paowalla (which he opened in 2016) morphing into the more casual Bombay Bread Bar in 2017, before ultimately closing in 2019.

Prateek Sadhu of Mumbai’s Masque restaurant said, “I feel like he was one of the godfathers of modern Indian food. What he did with Tabla back in New York... as a young chef we would always look up to him.” Food expert and author Padma Lakshmi took to Twitter to express her condolences: "Floyd Cardoz made us all so proud. Nobody who lived in New York in the early aughts could forget how delicious and packed Tabla always was. He had an impish smile, an innate need to make those around him happy, and a delicious touch. This is a huge loss not only for the professional food world but for Indians everywhere. My heart goes out to his wife Barkha and their whole family. RIP Floyd."

What’s often overlooked is how Cardoz opened the doors for Indian cuisine to move beyond immigrant food and into the world of fine-dining. Chefs like Vikas Khanna and Srijith Gopinath have become increasingly visible in the US with both winning accolades, including from Michelin for their respective eateries. These doors have been opened thanks to Cardoz’s patience and ability to clearly explain the nuances that ground Indian food to the outside world. His winning dish on Top Chef Masters was a wild mushroom upma with coconut milk and kokum, showcasing his ability to elevate the simplest of dishes with an understanding of flavours and textures.

Ultimately, Cardoz’s legacy is one that spans far and wide. A chef who was known to be generous with his praise, he always had a smile on his face and was generous with his knowledge and the food he was serving. He had worked to change perceptions with the food he served at restaurants across two cities on different sides of the world. Says Rahul Akerkar, chef and owner at Qualia, “He really embraced his roots and went in a way back to basics, back to regional cuisine and made that pretty hep.” Asked if there’s anything else, Akerkar — who’s known Cardoz since 1997 when he came to Bengaluru with chef Michael Romano in 1996 while doing R&D for Tabla — said, “I will miss him a lot.”

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