Mar 25, 2020
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Floyd Cardoz, 59, Dies; Gave American Fine Dining an Indian Flavor

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Floyd Cardoz, an international restaurateur and the first chef to bring the sweep and balance of his native Indian cooking to fine dining in the United States, died on Tuesday at Mountainside Hospital in Montclair, N.J. He was 59.

The cause was the coronavirus, his family said.

Mr. Cardoz was the first chef born and raised in India to lead an influential New York City kitchen, at Tabla, which he and the restaurateur Danny Meyer opened in the Flatiron district of Manhattan in 1998. Soon after, Ruth Reichl of The New York Times gave Mr. Cardoz’s cooking a rapturous review.

“Yes, I thought. This is what I have been waiting for,” she wrote. “This is American food, viewed through a kaleidoscope of Indian spices.”

Before opening Tabla, Mr. Cardoz cooked at the luxurious New York restaurant Lespinasse, where he rose from line cook to executive sous-chef under the Swiss chef Gray Kunz. (Mr. Kunz died in February.)

Mr. Kunz, like many chefs who participated in the revolution in French cooking known as nouvelle cuisine, was already occasionally deploying Asian ingredients like ginger, cardamom and star anise, but at Tabla, Mr. Cardoz summoned a fully Indian-American modern cuisine with dishes like halibut in watermelon curry and spice-braised oxtails with tapioca.

The Atlanta-based chef Asha Gomez said Mr. Cardoz’s work at Tabla inspired her culinary career and those of many other Indian-American chefs.

“I remember walking into that restaurant and feeling this sense of pride that I had never felt as an Indian,” she said. “To see what he had done to elevate Indian cuisine to the likes of French cuisine — because it deserves to be in that same light — was at the time mind-blowing to me.”

Floyd Mark Cardoz was born in Mumbai, India, on Oct. 2, 1960, and grew up there. He pursued a culinary career at a time when such a course was unusual in India for a young professional, especially one who had studied biochemistry.

He met his wife, Barkha, when they were both students at hospitality school in Mumbai, then worked for the prestigious Taj Group of hotels. He went on to study European haute cuisine in Switzerland, and the couple emigrated to the United States in 1988.

His partner at Tabla, Mr. Meyer, said on Wednesday that Mr. Cardoz’s perseverance kept the vision of Indian-American fine dining intact when doubters and some early reviews were negative, often complaining that the food was either too Indian or not Indian enough.

“He was a super-taster, big-hearted, stubborn as the day is long,” Mr. Meyer said in a statement. “He never once lost his sense of love for those he’d worked with, mentored and mattered to.”

After Tabla closed in 2010, Mr. Cardoz went on to head the kitchens at North End Grill, in Battery Park City; at White Street, in TriBeCa; and at Paowalla, in SoHo, which became Bombay Bread Bar. All are now closed. His 2016 cookbook, “Flavorwalla,” adapted his cooking style for American home cooks.

After winning the culinary competition television show “Top Chef Masters” in 2011 with a variation on upma, a South Indian breakfast staple, Mr. Cardoz became a celebrity son of India. In Mumbai, he opened the Bombay Canteen and O Pedro, a restaurant influenced by his family’s Portuguese roots in Goa.

This month, he visited the city to attend an anniversary party for Bombay Canteen and to oversee the opening of his Bombay Sweet Sho. On Instagram, he wrote that he had become ill soon after returning home to Roseland, N.J., on March 8.

He is survived by his wife; his sons, Peter and Justin; his mother, Beryl Cardoz; and five siblings.

Priya Krishna contributed reporting.

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