Floyd Cardoz has been the executive chef of North End Grill in Manhattan's Battery Park City since it opened in January 2012 and announced just last week that he'll be leaving the restaurant to pursue additional culinary projects and to work on a forthcoming cookbook. He attended culinary school in his native Bombay, and interned in the kitchen of the Taj Mahal Intercontinental Hotel. He went on to attend Les Roches, a prominent hotel management and culinary school in Crans-Montana, Switzerland. Moving to New York, Cardoz worked under Gray Kunz at the celebrated Lespinasse, rising to the post of executive sous-chef. Before opening the North End Grill, he was executive chef–partner of Danny Meyer's Tabla, a New Indian restaurant. He published his first cookbook, One Spice, Two Spice, in 2006, and three years later, launched a line of meals for online grocer Fresh Direct. He is also the consulting chef for El Verano Taqueria at Citi Field in Queens and Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. In 2011, Cardoz won Bravo’s Top Chef Masters competition, donating his $100,000 grand prize to the Young Scientist Cancer Research Fund at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
What's your earliest food memory?
As far as I can remember, food has always played an important role in my life. From coming home for a mid-day school lunch, to poking my head in the kitchen to see what was for my next meal. My mother reminds me that when I was a lad, if there was no seafood for lunch, I would be so upset that I would cry. She also would say of me “Most people eat to live, Floyd lives to eat.” We had a cook when I was growing up so I always remember my mother discussing our meals with the cook every day in the morning, after which our cook would purchase our daily supply of fish, meat, and vegetables from vendors who walked around our neighborhood, or go to the local market to shop. But the meals I remember the most are the ones we had when we were in Goa visiting my grandmother and great-grandmother. Every summer we spent four to six weeks at their home in Goa. We only ate Goan food. Our eggs and chicken were from the yard, the seafood was the freshest, caught that morning. The rice was from our fields and the coconuts used were from our coconut groves. Every meal was cooked in earthen pots over wood fires that went all day long. The mangos and jackfruit were from our yard as was the water from our well. All food waste was fed to our pigs, which were eventually slaughtered for sausages, salted pork, roasts, and stews. When we left to go back to Bombay we were given our share of sausage, coconut, rice, mango, and jackfruit. These meals were seasonal, local, and freshly harvested, caught, or slaughtered.
When did you first decide that you wanted to be a chef, and why?
Surprisingly I was studying to be a scientist. While I was an undergrad at St. Xavier’s College, Bombay University, I read a book, Hotel by Arthur Hailey. I was very intrigued and fascinated by the entire hospitality world. I realized then that I was not going to continue in the science world. I decided that after graduation I was going to the hospitality world. While studying hospitality management, I had to spend time in the kitchens of the school. I was surprised that I was a natural in the kitchen and had the talent for it. My dishes in class always tasted better than anyone else’s and I was continuously trying to learn new techniques. After my first year, I decided to do my internship in a kitchen so as to get it out of the way. I chose the kitchens of The Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay. It was during that time that I realized how happy it made me feel, and that this could be an option. When I fulfilled my obligation, I decided that was going to follow my newly discovered passion for cooking. I knew then that I was breaking every rule of society by following that line of work. You just did not go into the kitchen. Most people believed that there was no future for an educated mind in the kitchen. My first years were the hardest for my personal and social life — I had none — and I was not making any money to boot. I had to borrow money from my family just to pay for my train tickets. I worked six days a week 14 to 18 hours a day, but I was happy and felt that I had found my calling.
Who was your most important culinary influence?
I have had the opportunity to work with many talented and wonderful people, both in the front of the house as well as the back of the house, who have all contributed in some way to making me the chef I am. My culinary influences have been many. The one person who most profoundly affected me (even though I came to that realization recently) was my maternal grandmother, Esme. Nana, as we called her, was in our lives through much of our growing years. We loved her cooking and her passion for food and eating. She insisted that we always ate fresh food and we were not allowed to waste. Her mantra was: use everything, waste nothing. She taught me the value of 100 percent utilization and to see the wonder in bones, fat, offal, heads, and lesser cuts of meat. She lived to 96, all the time loving pork fat. She also taught me to always cook with love.
My second most important culinary influence was Gray Kunz. He made me understand food and flavors much more than anyone I know. He taught me the skill of balance and texture in all my food. By using heat in my food, I was able to harness heat as a flavor profile in my food. Gray introduced me to the marrying of Asian influences in French food, thereby opening my world to using Indian influences in Western food. Giving food texture makes it more exciting and makes it taste better.