Look at these radishes; they’re literally a sight for sore eyes... I’ve never seen figs this big. This is amazing,” exclaims Chef Floyd Cardoz. His enthusiasm is that of a child in a candy shop. We are in Grant Road’s vegetable market on a pleasant Mumbai winter morning. As Cardoz proceeds to pick up a few thick, snow-white radishes, he stares at them some more and murmurs to himself, “A pickled radish sauce for the quail, yes.” Before we know it, Cardoz has a rough sketch of what the new menu looks like at The Bombay Canteen. It has additions like crispy quail with kadhi patta (curry leaves) and grated coconut, sweet potato and green chilli dosa and grilled petha, turai (ridged gourd) and coconut chutney.
These market visits are what set Cardoz’s cooking philosophy apart: India-focussed menu made using seasonal and local produce. Recently, Cardoz came down from New York to bring out the winter edition of the restaurant’s menu. This is the third time the restaurant has launched a new menu since it launched in February. “The Indian soil bears such a bounty of diverse vegetation. It automatically offers a tremendous range of delicacies that can be prepared. I hope to remind people of the magic of our traditional dishes,” he says.
Back to the basics
For Cardoz, most of his childhood memories involve food; as a nine-year-old, he made his first fillet omelette. A Bandra boy, Cardoz spent most of his summers with his great grandmother in Goa. “She had an ancient kitchen where everything was cooked on firewood. There was no pre-set menu. We’d go to the market every day, see what was available and then cook it,” reminisces the 55-year-old.
Evidently, these experiences left a deep impact on Cardoz. At TBC, dishes like arbi tuk (deep-friend colocasia patties topped with diced cucumber, raddish and tomatoes) and pumpkin and paneer seek kebabs are popular with the patrons. “Ideas start flowing as soon as I see the ingredients and vegetables that are seasonally available. I run taste tests in my head and buy the ingredients I think will work with my experiments,” he explains.
Cardoz comes from a family that treats dinners like lavish parties around a table. Thus, Cardoz’s decision to take up cooking professionally was an organic process. “Cooking, for me, has always been a dialogue between the cook and the diner. It’s about doing something nice for the other person, and finding your satisfaction, in his,” he says. Cardoz apprenticed at the Taj Mahal Intercontinental Hotel in the late 1980s and went on to open Tabla — an Indian cuisine restaurant in New York — in 1997 and the North Grill — a seasonal American restaurant — in 2012. Now, as the culinary director at The Bombay Canteen, this is one of his first ventures in India.
Indian at heart
Despite his phenomenal international success, Cardoz’s heart lies in reinventing traditional Indian dishes. “Health benefits apart, Indian delicacies have a unique texture and flavour that can’t be easily recreated internationally. Sadly, in the country’s culinary scene, these qualities seldom find a spot,” he says.
Criticising the Indian need to imitate the western world, Cardoz remembers his disappointment when he saw cherries from Spain and grapes from California during an earlier market visit. “Everybody wants to use zucchini and broccoli rather than the lesser-known ingredients like green bajra and amaranth leaves,” he says. Fittingly, Cardoz sternly walks by the stalls selling baby corn and packaged mushrooms, and stops by those that display a generous amount of indigenous produce.
For instance, he was pleasantly taken aback when he spotted bathua (lamb’s quarters) during our visit. “My wife is Sindhi, and she introduced me to this leafy vegetable. When I did a bit of research I found out that it is a household vegetable across northern India, but we don’t use it at all in fine-dining menus. Now, I am hoping to add it to the new menu,” he says as he picks up a bunch.
Similarly, the request he makes of the vendors is a testament to his love for all things Indian. From turmeric leaves to fresh turmeric buds that smell like raw mangoes, Cardoz is absolutely certain about how he wants to go about representing a season through his cooking.
And, above all, Cardoz insists accessibility to the consumers. “Pricing is just one part of it. The food should remind people of their homeland. It should strike a chord with them, remind them about the richness of their country’s abundance and flavours. If they associate my food to their memory of home, I have succeeded,” he says.
What: Try out Cardoz’s latest dishes
Where: The Bombay Canteen, Kamla Mills Compound, Senapati Bapat Road, Lower Parel.
Call: 4966 6666