Last week, we found out that Floyd Cardoz, influential Indian-American chef and restauranteur, had died of COVID-19. He was just 59 years old.
Besides his wife and two sons, Cardoz leaves behind a professional legacy that helped pave the way for many young chefs who were interested in pushing the boundaries of Indian techniques and flavors.
A Young Chef Trains
Floyd Cardoz was born in Mumbai (though he preferred to call it Bombay) and grew up wanting to be a doctor. He went to school for biochemistry, and planned on a career in medical research. However, after he graduated, he realized that his passion lay elsewhere. He enrolled in hotel management school, but quickly realized that he felt most at home during the kitchen rotation. After working as a trainee chef at a popular Mumbai hotel, he enrolled in culinary school in Switzerland.
After his stint at the prestigious Les Roches hotel management school in Bluche, Switzerland, he traveled to New York for a family wedding. Walking through the city, he was inspired by haute cuisine restaurants like Le Bernardin, and dreamed of moving to New York City and establishing himself at one of those pillars of fine dining. He began applying for kitchen positions, but realized quickly that the only places willing to hire him, despite his European training, were Indian restaurants.
After two years, he was hired at Lespinasse under Gray Kunz, a famous Swiss restauranteur and one of Manhattan’s most acclaimed chefs. He worked his way up from salad chef to chef de cuisine, and was eventually connected with restauranteur Danny Meyer, who was looking to open up an Indian restaurant.
Together, Floyd and Danny Meyer opened Tabla in New York’s Flatiron district in 1998. For both diners and chefs, Tabla was inspirational. It was one of the first restaurants to use Indian flavors alongside nouvelle cuisine techniques. The resulting dishes, like Cardoz’s famous halibut in watermelon curry, were a revelation for the public who had only ever seen Indian ingredients and spices paired with traditional Indian dishes.
New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl called Tabla “love at first bite” and summarized it as “American food, viewed through a kaleidoscope of Indian spices.”
Tabla was open for 12 years before it closed in 2010. Cardoz went on to work at North End Grill, and soon opened three more restaurants- Paowalla (later called Bombay Bread Bar) in New York City, and The Bombay Canteen and O Pedro in Mumbai. This year, he was due to open his third venture in Mumbai- a beautiful mithai and confectionary shop called Bombay Sweet Shop.
The Father of Indian Fusion Food
Many chefs laud Floyd as the father of Indian fusion cuisine, and that was never more visible than when he competed on Top Chef Masters in 2011. His winning dish was wild mushroom upma polenta with kokum and coconut milk, a tribute to his childhood growing up in Maharashtra. He donated his $100,000 prize to the Young Scientist Cancer Research Fund at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Since his death many chefs have spoken out in tribute to his unique vision. Tom Colicchio, Meherwan Irani, and David Chang are just some of the culinary stars who have posted public messages expressing sadness, disbelief, and anger that he was taken away so soon.
“Few people have done more than Floyd Cardoz to impact an entire industry, the career trajectories of more cooks, or the palates of more restaurant goers,” says Danny Meyer, Cardoz’s partner at Tabla.
Meherwan Irani may have said it best, in a moving tribute to Floyd he wrote for Bon Appetit. “The culinary world has lost someone incredibly important—not just a talented Indian chef who laid the groundwork for legitimizing one of the great cuisines of the world but a capital C chef who was a leader, a mentor, and an iconoclast.”
Floyd Cardoz passed away at Mountainside Medical Center in Montclair, New Jersey, after a week-long battle with COVID-19.
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