By Eric Grossman
Kris Connor/Getty Images for NYCWFF
Floyd Cardoz, the Mumbai-born, New York City-based chef who changed countless diners’ perceptions of Indian cuisine, has died at the age of 59 after testing positive for COVID-19.
Shortly after returning from a trip to India on March 8, Cardoz began feeling feverish and admitted himself to a New York hospital as a precautionary measure, he revealed in an Instagram post on March 18. In a statement, The Hunger Inc., the hospitality company co-founded by Cardoz, reported that “Floyd tested positive for COVID-19 on March 18th and was being treated for the same” at New Jersey’s Mountainside Medical Center, where he died on March 25. (It’s unclear if Cardoz had any pre-existing conditions or underlying complications, and attempts to reach his representatives at The Hunger Inc. were unsuccessful.)
“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,” said Danny Meyer, the CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group who had worked with Cardoz, via his Instagram account.
Perhaps the most famous Indian-born chef to make a mark on the American dining scene this century, Cardoz first started to develop a reputation in the 1990s during his time in the kitchen at Lespinasse, the now-shuttered temple to fine dining at New York’s St. Regis Hotel.
The chef reached a new level of prominence in 1998 with the groundbreaking Tabla, a fine-dining Indian restaurant opened in partnership with Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group. The restaurant, which opened across from Manhattan’s Madison Square Park at a time when the city’s culinary scene offered few Indian fine dining options, was a critical hit, enjoying an influential run until it closed in 2010.
Cardoz’s fame and influence continued to grow in 2011, when he won season three of American TV show Top Chef Masters. For his final challenge, the chef honored his roots by serving wild mushroom upma polenta with kokum and coconut milk.
Cardoz went on to open the North End Grill, which closed in 2018 after a six-year run in Battery Park City, for Meyer’s restaurant group, and then proceeded to open several of his own restaurants in Mumbai (the Bombay Canteen and O Pedro) and New York (Paowalla in SoHo, which turned into the Bombay Bread Bar, which closed last year).
The personable Cardoz embraced his role as a de facto culinary ambassador, cheerfully extolling the wonders of Indian cuisine and spices at various culinary events and festivals around the U.S.
The chef was featured in numerous TV programs, and recently appeared in the Mumbai-filmed “Don’t Call it Curry” episode from season two of Netflix’s popular Ugly Delicious series. Cardoz was also a member of the star-studded culinary council for LUCKYRICE, a company that brings the foods and cultures of Asia to North American consumers.
Cardoz’s influence was reaffirmed by the immediate outpouring of grief from the global culinary community in reaction to news of his death. Dozens of notable chefs, journalists and other members of the food world took to social media to share their memories while honoring the chef’s kindness and generosity of spirit. Several called out Cardoz’s impassioned efforts to expand the awareness and understanding of Indian cuisine in his adopted homeland, with myriad chefs of South Asian descent saying he paved the way for them and countless others in the industry.
Cardoz “made us all so proud,” said Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi via her Twitter account. “Nobody who lived in NY in the early aughts could forget how delicious and packed Tabla always was. He had an impish smile, an innate need to make those around him happy, and a delicious touch. This is a huge loss...not only for the professional food world, but for Indians everywhere. My heart goes out to his wife Barkha and their whole family.”
“Easily one of the most beloved people in the business,” said David Chang on Twitter. “He was criminally under appreciated, introduced so many new flavors and techniques to America...But as great as a chef as Floyd was, he was a better person and amazing dad.”
“He was beyond talented as a cook. He was a supertaster, big-hearted, stubborn as the day is long, and the most loyal friend, husband, and dad you could imagine,” Meyer said. “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.”
Cardoz is survived by his mother, Beryl, wife Barkha, and sons, Justin and Peter.