Meet and Eat: Floyd Cardoz, Tabla

Meet and Eat: NY

Conversations with chefs and food personalities in New York City.

Last week, Danny Meyer and the Union Square Hospitality Group announced that, after twelve years, Tabla will be closing on December 30th. For those twelve years, Chef Floyd Cardoz has brought his New Indian cuisine to New Yorkers and visitors alike, infusing his international culinary education and experience with flavors from his native Bombay and Goa. Although Serious Eaters will certainly miss Tabla, we'll have an opportunity to say goodbye to the restaurant over the next few months with special celebratory events. And never fear, Chef Cardoz will continue to dazzle us with a new project slated to open next year.

Name: Floyd Cardoz
Location: Flatiron
Occupation: Executive Chef/Partner, Tabla

It's rare that a restaurant in New York can last twelve years. To what do you attribute Tabla's longevity? Our entire team has been so dedicated and passionate about every aspect of the Tabla experience, from the groundbreaking food we cook to the way we treat our guests, employees, people in the community, and our purveyors. We also put so much care into the ingredients we use and the farmers we work with, and change the menu daily based on what is fresh in the market. Above all, we have always cared about creating the best experience possible for our guests.

What's next for you as part of Union Square Hospitality Group after Tabla closes? Right now, our greatest focus is on our employees—we're doing everything we can to help them find productive jobs, ideally within our company and also outside. Over the next few months, we'll be celebrating Tabla with a series of events such as alumni chef dinners (with Ben Pollinger of Oceana, Dan Kluger of ABC Kitchen and several more), wine and beer tastings, and benefits. In moving forward, I am working with Danny [Meyer] and USHG to create a new restaurant that is slated to open fall 2011, not related to Indian cuisine in any way. I am also the Chef of El Verano Taqueria, which at this time exists only at Citi Field.

You've credited Gray Kunz as being one of your mentors. What did you learn from him and who else influenced you during the course of your career? From Gray, I learned to cook with passion and heart, as well as balancing flavors and incorporating textures. Danny Meyer has also been an important mentor to me. He has taught me the power of hospitality, and that it takes more than good food to have a great restaurant.

Why do you think that high-end Indian dining hasn't really taken off in the US? I do think it has taken off. Since we opened Tabla 12 years ago, I think Indian food and the reception for this cuisine has come a long away. When we opened, people were a bit afraid of Indian flavors (they thought it was too spicy or greasy), and didn't really understand the dishes or the menu. Their only connection to Indian food was cheap take-out. Their preconceived notion of Indian food was never close to the real thing. With Tabla, for the first time, Americans were experiencing Indian food with balanced flavors, made with the best local ingredients from nearby farms, and served with warm, gracious hospitality in a beautiful setting. I am extremely proud of how guests have come to embrace the food from my homeland. It may not be as populous as something like steak or Italian, but I believe that many New Yorkers and Americans have come to appreciate and love Indian cuisine.

You've taught cooking classes at the International Culinary Center. What do you like most about teaching, and what do you find to be your students' most common misconception about Indian cuisine? One of the most rewarding things about being a chef is teaching (and learning from) people who are truly passionate about food and cooking. I love introducing people to the spices of India—how to cook with them, how to balance the flavors, how to store them. The two most common misconceptions about Indian spices are, first, hat spices have to be toasted, and second, that curry powder is Curry (a saucy dish rather than a spice mix).

You're also the author of a cookbook, One Spice, Two Spice. What was the most challenging part for you about writing a cookbook? What was the most rewarding?

The most challenging part was measuring each ingredient for the recipes. I cook by instinct, without measuring ingredients.

The most rewarding moment was when my 13-year-old son cooked a dish from the cookbook for dinner; he did it without any help from me, and it worked beautifully. It's also extremely rewarding when guests tell me how much they use and enjoy the book, and how easy it is.

What are some of your favorite dishes/restaurants in NYC? I love ABC Kitchen, Jewel Bako, Momofuku, Casa Mono, and Hill Country.

What do you cook most often at home? I love cooking fish, whatever my fishmonger has that day—so it could be sand shark, calamari, sardines—or even better, if I catch a wild striped bass. There is nothing better than using seasonal ingredients from my garden at home. During summer, I really enjoy fire roasting lobsters and clams in my Caja China in my backyard.