Food Channel PRO Editor-in-Chief Ellen Koteff visited with Tabla’s Executive Chef Floyd Cardoz to discuss the renowned New York City Indian restaurant’s recent menu overhaul, among other food-related topics.
CHEF PROFILE: FLOYD CARDOZ
Executive chef for Tabla, part of the Union Square Hospitality Group
- Hometown: Bombay, India
- Educated in Bombay and Switzerland; studied biochemistry then earned a degree in Hotel Restaurant Management and Administration from Les Roches in Switzerland
- Apprenticed at the Taj Mahal Intercontinental Hotel in Bombay; Worked with Gray Kunz at Lespinasse in the St. Regis Hotel, New York City, eventually being promoted to executive sous chef
- Published first cookbook in 2006, ‘One Spice, Two Spice’
- Received first-ever ‘Humanitarian of the Year’ award from Food TV and Share our Strength in honor of his continued commitment to community engagement
- Launched a line of convenient ‘4-Minute Meals’ and “Ready- to-Cook’ entrees in collaboration with FreshDirect, a leading online gourmet food purveyor
What prompted you to change the menu at Tabla?
There were a bunch of things but primarily the decision was made because we had two different kinds of cuisine and two different kinds of service. We would have people downstairs who wanted food from upstairs but sit downstairs and vice versa. We were not being on our guests’ side. We were not doing what we do well. We said let’s be on our guests’ side and also reduce our prices a bit. And I realized that when I went out I really wanted to share foods and this new approach would accommodate that.
So what was the outcome?
So what we did was like The Bread Bar (downstairs) and Tabla (upstairs) got married and had a kid. Now we have one menu all across the board. Our first month was very difficult. Initially we had a lot of growing pains. We asked ourselves, was the menu too big, too small? We had to reorganize our kitchen, our service and just about everything else.This all took place at the end of October and now there are slightly less menu items
How is the menu revamp doing these days?
Now it’s running like a well-oiled machine. I have changed the menu twice since then. It’s getting very interesting. How often in a restaurant’s life do you get to open it twice?
What is your process for creating menu items?
I go into the market and I see an ingredient that I want to use and I bring it back to the restaurant. Then I take the product and conceive the dish right there. I create it right there and it changes all the time. I like to work with what is available.
Which new dishes are proving to be most popular?
The fish curry that we never had before is very popular. That surprised me the most. I didn’t think we would sell that many. The recipe is from my grandmother. Fish collar is what we use and normally from striped bass but sometimes cod and snapper. We also use chiles, coconut and tamarind. Other popular dishes are the grilled calamari, chicken ravioli, and pork terrine. We now feature two soups instead of just one offering.
What has been the reaction from customers?
Our customers are happy because we are giving them more options. We also serve family style, and tapas.
Which dishes on the menu are so popular that you couldn’t take them off?
Crab cakes, the pepper shrimp, and chicken tikka.
Your career has been an interesting mix of highlights, what stands out the most?
When I got to work with Share Our Strength and help out the fisherman and the shrimpers in New Orleans. I had all my chef friends order from them so that the fishermen had a place to sell their shrimp. We bought a lot and after I spoke to my friends they started ordering also.
I also have started to work with Kids With Cameras. I invited chef friends of mine to cook for a charity event and we raised $450,000 in one night for these kids of prostitutes in India. The money was intended to build a school. It is going to be completed next year and I would like to see it.
I am also proud of the accolades from the New York Times and the James Beard Awards but truthfully I am most proud of the things I can do for people. Just last month we did another dinner in San Francisco that raised another $250,000 for the school.
Can you talk about your experience at President Obama’s inaugural? How did that come about and what was it like?
During the inauguration we went into people’s homes and cooked meals. There were about 15 or 20 homes, mostly well-connected people. I went with a sous chef and we made Maryland crab cakes with Indian spice, beef short ribs and the dessert was kulfi with apple. We served fresh apple cider and we used all local ingredients. It was delicious.
How is business at Tabla? Do you see an uptick in business or do you think the recession is still in full force?
I think it is better than last year. Last year was very rough for so many people. A lot of people lost jobs. People are eating out more now and that is a very good thing.
What is your favorite junk food?
I love English chocolate. I especially love English Cadbury with almonds and raisins.
What is the one food you always have on hand at home in your refrigerator?
Anchovies. I put them in my pasta, my salads, and braised meats
What do you think is the one food item that doesn’t get enough respect?
Oxtail. I think it is very flavorful and it works so well with lots of cuisines such as French, Chinese, Italian, Indian, Caribbean and West Indies. It is so versatile.
What is the aspect of your job that you enjoy the most?
I love that I get to cook with all these cool ingredients. And I enjoy working every single day. I love to work with Danny (Meyer). He is a great guy to work with. His philosophy of how to treat people is exactly the same way I want to work.
What is the best compliment you ever received?
Danny Meyer’s 10-year old son, Peyton, wrote a very sweet paper about me. He was assigned to write about someone who had a special talent. It was so wonderful to read it. I was very flattered and what he wrote really touched my heart.
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