NEW YORK – The last time I briefly met Flyod Cardoz, was at a reception last year in January, at the house of philanthropist Meera Gandhi, in New York City. Cardoz was, as befitted his celebrity status – and probably his most comfortable attire, donned in a hallmark chef’s uniform, like a soldier would proudly wear his outfit, replete with medals at a ceremonial event.
A sizeable number of people turned out at the reception, held in honor of Indian designers Sandeep Khosla and Abu Jani, who had recently teamed up with socialite-turned entrepreneur Mirai Doshi and Amrapali Jewels, to launch a new line called ‘Mirai’.
The only real space to move about without fuss was in the luxurious kitchen of Gandhi’s Upper East Side townhouse, which was once the residence of Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. There, Cardoz, along with his new business partner, Paul Neuman, the founder of Neuman’s Kitchen, a events and catering company in New York City and Pennsylvania, concocted some superb, spicy appetizers for the 150 odd guests.
A cocktail named ‘Abu-Sandeep NY Special’, by Cardoz – a concoction of Martell VS Cognac, mango purée, honey syrup, Cointreau, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and candied fennel, was a smash hit, and welcome relief for palates wary of anything spicy.
Cardoz made his way through the crowd that evening, with his trademark smile, made small talk. I exchanged a brief handshake, and smile with him, complimented him on the food, like I had on some other occasions in the past when I had the opportunity to do so at press meets, including at annual food tasting meets at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City. He had also curated the menu at a reception hosted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a retrospective of works by the late photographer Raghubir Singh, entitled ‘Modernism on the Ganges’.
Most New Yorkers recognized Cardoz as the quintessential modern Indian chef, of the famous Tabla, overlooking Madison Square Park, founded with Danny Meyer. The signature dishes there included halibut in watermelon curry and spice-braised oxtails with tapioca, which created a huge buzz and set his cuisine in a different league from other Indian chefs operating at that time.
Cardoz furthered his fame after he won the television show ‘Top Chef Masters’ in 2011 with a variation on upma, the staple of South Indians the world over.
Cardoz, who was termed as “Spicy Man’ by the late chef Grey Kunz, died from complications from COVID-19, on March 25, 2020, at Mountainside Hospital in Montclair, New Jersey, at the age of 59.
A resident of Verona, NJ, Cardoz had been hospitalized for a week after travelling from Mumbai to New York through Frankfurt on March 8, falling sick and testing positive for the virus. Cardoz is survived by his wife and business partner, Barkha, and two sons, Justin and Peter.
Cardoz, who was born in Mumbai, also was known for his ownership and executive chef tenures at the New York City eateries North End Grill and Paowalla. The latter was later renamed as Bombay Bread Bar, which closed last year. In India, he was also a partner in Bombay Sweet Shop, O Pedro, and The Bombay Canteen, at the time of his death, noted Wikipedia.
Cardoz began his training in Mumbai before moving to study at the Global Hospitality Management School at Les Roches in Switzerland, furthering his French, Italian and Indian culinary skills before moving on to New York City, where he cooked as sous chef under Kunz at the celebrated restaurant Lespinasse, which blended Asian ingredients with French techniques, before going on to open Tabla, in 1998.
Cardoz was a four-time James Beard Award nominee and the author of two cookbooks.
“My food (like my life) is a fusion of many different cuisines and cultures, with subtle Indian accents,” Cardoz wrote in his Flavorwalla cookbook.
In 2008, he launched a line of entrees with the online grocery home delivery company FreshDirect. He also served as a culinary consultant to the 2014 feature film ‘The Hundred Foot Journey’, in whose storyline French and Indian cuisines fuse.
Not a man to rest on his laurels, Cardoz was a busy man at the time of his untimely death. Last year, his enterprise with Neuman’s Kitchen featured popular fusion plates such as Black Pepper Shrimp with wild watercress and watermelon salad, as well as Shishito Pepper Pakoras.
Cardoz had said last year, announcing his venture with Neuman’s Kitchen: “I believe that good food and good cooking are not only about how good something looks or tastes, it’s also about how good you feel while cooking for someone you love, or eating something that has been lovingly prepared for you. The entire process of cooking is about expressing your soul. If your food does not have soul, it will not give joy to those eating it. And without soul, we are nothing.”
Cardoz, who in the words of Padma Lakshmi, had “an innate need to make those around him happy,” was remembered by many of his peers and colleagues fondly.
“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,” Meyer wrote in an Instagram post. “He was beyond talented as a cook. He was a super-taster, big-hearted, stubborn as the day is long, and the most loyal friend, husband, and dad you could imagine,” Meyer continued. “My heart is just broken. His life and career was full of triumph and adversity. We opened and closed two restaurants together and in that time he never once lost his sense of love for those he’d worked with, mentored, and mattered to. He made monumental contributions to our industry and to my organization, and his passing leaves us with a gaping hole.”
Restaurateur Will Guidara had this to say to Eater New York: “Floyd was my first chef after I graduated college. He was the only person in my entire life that I ever only called “chef” [instead of using their name]. When you started at Tabla, even as a manager, you had to work in the kitchen for a week. It was day two and I was chopping onions for an entire day, and he was just standing behind me picking up every onion and telling me why I fucked it up. I started out scared shitless of this guy, but by the time I left that restaurant two years later, he really was like a second dad to me. And his wife, Barkha, has always been a second mom to me — literally, she called me son and I called her mom.”
The first time I met Cardoz was in the Fall of 1999. I was living in the Hamptons then, doing a graduate program at Long Island University, and had come to the city over a weekend. I had read of Tabla, and a friend who accompanied me, suggested we go there, despite it being known as very pricey too.
I remember having some terrific naan, halibut with mushroom sauce, and a delicious mango ice cream. Right at the time of leaving, we saw Cardoz greeting some customers. A waiter told us that it was the chef.
I remember going over to him, complimenting him for the great food. He laughed, thanked me back.
It was a ritual I did some more times over the next two decades.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)