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What Floyd Cardoz meant to the South Asian culinary world

"Indians have to tell the story that our food is f–--ing amazing. It doesn't have to be thought of as pedestrian or cheap," Cardoz once said.
Image: Chef Floyd Cardoz Dies at the Age of 59 Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival Presented By Coca-Cola - A Dinner with Floyd Cardoz and Anita Lopart of the Bank of America Dinner series curated by Chefs Club
Chef Floyd Cardoz at Paowalla on Oct. 13, 2016 in New York.Kris Connor / Getty Images for NYCWFF file

The culinary world is paying tribute to chef and international restauranteur Floyd Cardoz for his contributions, specifically to the South Asian food scene.

Cardoz, who died Tuesday from COVID-19, is being recognized for many achievements, including blending native Indian cooking with fine dining with his restaurant Tabla, which opened in 1998 in New York City. Indian American chef Asha Gomez told The New York Times this week how Cardoz had influenced her career.

"I remember walking into that restaurant and feeling this sense of pride that I had never felt as an Indian,” Gomez 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.”

Tributes have poured in for Cardoz, who died after admitting himself into a hospital on March 17 as a precautionary measure when he returned from a trip to Bombay, India, and felt feverish.

Originally from Bombay and raised in Goa, Cardoz first rose to prominence in the United States after the New York Times gave his restaurant Tabla three stars. He went on to win the culinary competition television show “Top Chef Masters” in 2011, and opened two restaurants in India: Bombay Canteen and O Pedro.

Indian American food writer Priya Krishna wrote about the last time she saw Cardoz at a dinner he was hosting, and how he paved the way for Indian cuisine in America.

"Looking back, I wish that at that dinner, I had told him that even if he never opens another restaurant, that Indian dining in America would not look like what it does today without him," Krishna wrote in Vogue India. "That Indian restaurants get to be high-end and personal and regional and cross-cultural and succeed on a large scale—we can, in large part, thank Floyd Cardoz."

As one of the first Indian chefs in the United States, Cardoz often expressed a desire to bring Indian cooking to the mainstream. In a recent appearance on the TV show "Ugly Delicious," he spoke about trying to break through the stereotype that Indian food can’t be high-end.

"Indians have to tell the story that our food is f–--ing amazing,” Cardoz said in the show. “It doesn't have to be thought of as pedestrian or cheap. We want to show you things that we eat here all the time."

The host of "Ugly Delicious" and the founder of the Momofuku restaurant group, David Chang spoke about the lasting legacy of Cardoz in the Asian American restaurant scene.

"Floyd was a legend," Chang said in his podcast "The Dave Chang show." "Floyd was in the Pantheon of highly influential chefs that changed the game. So many of us cook the way we do because of his influence."

His newest venture, Bombay Sweet Shop, opened in early March. The shop, which features classic Indian sweets from all parts of India, is currently closed until further notice.

Throughout his career, Floyd was dedicated to lifting up South Asian chefs. Meherwan Irani, the founder of Chai Pani Restaurant Group, wrote about his first time meeting Cardoz for Bon Appetit Magazine.

"I thanked this man I’d never met for changing my life and blazing a trail that I and so many other Indian chefs have followed," Irani wrote. "The acceptance and legitimacy that we all craved and finally gained was because of him. I called Floyd the godfather of modern Indian cuisine."

Padama Lakshmi, the host of "Top Chef," echoed this sentiment in an Instagram post on Tuesday. "Floyd made us all so proud,” Lakshmi wrote. “This is a huge loss, not only for the professional food world, but for Indians everywhere.”

His colleagues at Bombay Sweet shop wrote a tribute to Cardoz on Instagram, referring to him as "Papaji," meaning father in Hindi.

“You showed us what it means to live life to the fullest and be the best versions of ourselves all the time," the post read. “You believed in the vision and in us more than we ever did and pushed us to be confident and proud in whatever we do.”