… and one of India’s finest culinary ambassador to the world, says Madhulika Dash
There are only two kinds of professionals that have an ability to touch your soul- doctors and chefs.
Many who knew the late Chef Floyd Cardoz – the gentle gamechanger of the food world – or even met him briefly would agree on one thing: He was both. An exceptional human being and an
extraordinary chef, he had in his years as a chef not only worked at changing the perception of Indian food at the world level, but even make India aware of its vast culinary legacy. His restaurants – Bombay Canteen, O’ Pedro, Tabla (which closed down last year) and Paowala – are today living testimony of to the genius’ and his unique ability to bring our the exceptional in ordinary.
A culinary trendsetter, mentor to many (including his peers) and perhaps the finest Indian chef, he was every food writer’s dream collaborator. In fact, many of us in India and elsewhere in the world will today willingly give credit to Chef Floyd Cardoz’s for many of their articles. It was his dedicated project of ‘bring India back to India and the world through food’ that not only made his restaurants one of the best spaces to study ‘progressive Indian food; but also find the hidden gems articulately represented. In fact, Bombay Canteen, which the 59-year-old has started ten years ago as an ode to his ‘culinary legacy’ in the past few years became the light tower of culinary revival. He refined the art of putting simple comfort food along with lesser known dishes to create new age favourites – a process that, says Chef Shantanu Mehrotra (Executive Chef, Indian Accent) and his peer, “is often a tedious, long drawn process which is often replete with more disappointments than success.” And yet, Chef Floyd did so brilliantly – even making it look like a piece of cake.
Result, none of his restaurants did anything run of the mill. “Their menus changed with season, introducing new styles of cooking a traditional dish to even introducing and reviving forgotten ingredients. And he did that from day one of Bombay Canteen and Tabla, which back then was a novelty,” says Chef Vikas Seth (Culinary Director, Embassy) and Chef Cardoz’s hospitality college junior who visited Tabla in the wonderment of discovering ‘naan croutons’.
That easiness and consistency that this culinary director brought to his food offerings turned each of his restaurant, a brand ambassador - and Chef Cardoz, who shared his knowledge and work freely, even taking joy when his dish got replicated (which it did), into for the lack of a good comparison, Chef Cardoz – a man who was respected and immensely loved by all, purist critics and food writers included.
For the world though, his work became a single point to understand why ‘chicken tikka was dry’ and the Indian cuisine that went beyond butter chicken and dosa. Recalls a close associate, Chef Srijith Gopinath (Executive Chef, Campton Palace, Taj Hotel Resorts & Palace), “Chef Cardoz was, without doubt, an international Indian food icon. His audacity to travel that unconventional food path was commendable, even infectious. And his cooking at Tabla could leave a lingering happiness to all who dined there, including chefs both senior and junior.
Concurs Chef Abhijit Saha (Chefpreneur, Capeberry), who knew the Mumbai-born chef from his early days. “I have always considered myself fortunate to know someone as hard working as Floyd. We would often meet and cook together at the ‘World of Flavour’ conference in Culinary Institute of America (2004-07) during his ‘Tabla NY’ days, and he would always manage to surprise me by doing that one little thing differently. His body of work has inspired many chefs like me to constantly break our comfort zone as well.”
In fact, adds Chef Sharad Dewan (Regional Director, Food Production, The Park Hotels), “the brilliance of being Floyd Cardoz was that even if we didn’t know him in person, we knew him from
his food – and they way he built his restaurant. When people today ask him what did the old style pop and mom eateries graduated to – I would have to name one of Chef Cardoz restaurant. He had aced in the art of bringing fine dining into casual eating – and how.”
I agree. As a food writer who has had the chance of interacting with him, even arguing with him on twitter, his absence will be felt every time I sit to pen an interesting topic. Then, the thought will be …. What would Chef Cardoz do?
And in thinking so, I will not be alone.