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Floyd Cardoz
NEW YORK CHEF BELIEVES IN INDIAN, AMERICAN CUISINE FUSION
By Nitish S. Rele

Mumbai-born Floyd Cardoz was barely 20 years old when the cooking bug caught his fancy. He very clearly remembers that day. "I was puttering around in my parents’ house, making a chicken curry for my father. I can see their kitchen as if it were yesterday,” writes the 48-year-old executive chef and co-owner of the New York City-based Tabla restaurant in his new book "One Spice, Two Spice: American Food, Indian Flavors," (published by William Morrow, 304 pages, $34.95) with Gourmet magazine senior features editor Jane Daniels Lear. “... Within easy reach were jars filled with spices: coriander, cumin, and fenugreek seeds; three or four kinds of mustard seeds: the best black peppercorns, from Tellicherry; bay leaves; turmeric; cloves; cardamom pods. Spices are the bedrock of Indian cooking. I thought as I rummaged among them. No matter how simple or complex the food, the spices are always there,”

It wasn't too long before the St. Andrews High School and St. Xavier's College (both in Mumbai) graduate, who had trained as a biochemist, enrolled in the Dadar Catering College in that city. "After I finished the culinary school, I joined the Taj Mahal Intercontinental Hotel," he recalls. At the five-star hotel, Cardoz learned the ins and outs of the working of a kitchen. Then it was on to Les Roches, a hotel management and culinary school in Switzerland, where he received his diploma in Hotel Restaurant Management and Administration.

Back in India, Cardoz wanted to experiment European and American cuisine with Indian spices. But when his willingness to try out new ideas in the kitchen received a futile response, he took off for the United States in 1988, where his brother lived. “I was interested in immigrating to Australia,” he says. “But I found a job in New York City and decided to stay back.”


Indeed, the chef worked for the Taj Group and a few other restaurants in the city, including the esteemed Lespinasse restaurant, where he was able to incorporate Indian spices with French flavors. During his five-year tenure at the restaurant, he rose from Chef de Partie to Executive Sous Chef. “When I arrived in Lespinasse, there were only four Indian spices in the cabinet,” he says. “When I left, we had incorporated over twenty-five.”

And then it was time to move on, as they say. One fine day, Cardoz met up with noted restaurateur Danny Meyer and chef Michael Romano of Union Square Café in NYC. The trio clicked and in 1998 opened Tabla restaurant at which he seasons Western cuisine with spices from the various regions of India.

“I want to make Indian foods and flavors more user-friendly,” he says. “I want to expose the Indian cuisine to the world. And I believe the best way to go about it is through fusion of Indian and American cuisine. I have started this new Indian cuisine movement, which hopefully will make our cuisine more accessible for everyone.”

Cardoz blames Indian restaurants in the U.S. for continuing to offer greasy, fatty food for decades. “Forty years ago, the immigrants who came here opened the North Indian-style, Punjabi restaurants,” he says. “It was easy for them then. But things got lost on the way and they have continued to offer just one or two curries on their menu. It’s easy to cook Indian food because when you add fat, the food cooks faster.”

The Tabla restaurant executive chef looks to awaken Americans about Indian food. And that’s the reason he has written his new book, which features more than 140 recipes such as crisp panfried black pepper shrimp; meaty sea scallops seared and served in a satiny sweet-sour glaze; steak rubbed with crushed peppercorns and coriander, cumin and mustard seeds; duck bathed in an aromatic orange curry; and lamb meatballs filled with an herbaceous combination of fresh figs, cilantro, and mint and then napped with a lush, lustrous green sauce. He has quite wisely provided a glossary of spices used in everyday cooking. And the cooking techniques such as sautéing, pan-frying, braising, poaching and roasting, of course, never change.

“I believe people are now ready for our flavors,” he says. “They realize spices are not that bad. I am sure a time will come when Indian restaurants in the U.S. will go back to their regional roots of offering Karwari, Goan, Gujarati food, among others.”

Cardoz and his wife, Barkha, have two sons, Peter and Justin.

RECIPE FOR PANFRIED BLACK PEPPER SHRIMP (Serves 6)

When I was growing up, my family lived near fishing villages in both Bombay and Goa, so we were able to get the freshest shrimp imaginable. As a child, I looked forward to Fridays because we always had shrimp for lunch. (We Cardoz children didn’t eat lunch at school like many other children but went home for the midday meal). The sweetness of the shrimp, the heat of freshly ground black peppercorns, and the citrusy flavor of the coriander seeds make a great combination. I serve this with Watermelon Lime Salad or cucumber and onion salad. For a first course, simply halve the recipe. The shrimp can be grilled, too, but first brush the rack with oil so they don’t stick. I call for extra-large shrimp, but use whatever size is local or freshest and just the cooking time accordingly.

2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
30 extra-large shrimp (16 to 20 count), peeled and deveined
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 cup canola oil
Juice of 1 lime (2 to 3 tablespoons)

Grind the peppercorns and coriander seeds separately in an electric coffee/spice grinder until medium-fine. Combine the ground spices with the olive oil in a bowl and mix well. Add the shrimp, tossing to coat well. Marinate the shrimp, covered and chilled, for at least 1 and up to 24 hours.

Season the shrimp with the salt. Heat ½ cup of the canola oil in a heavy 12-inch skillet over moderately high heat until the oil just begins to shimmer. Carefully put half the shrimp in the skillet and panfry them until crisp, about 2 minutes on each side. Drain the shrimp on paper towels or brown paper and drizzle with the lime juice.

Cook the remaining shrimp in the remaining oil and drizzle with lime juice in the same way.





MADHUR JAFFREY GOES DOWN NOSTALGIA LANE
By Nitish S. Rele

If it wasn’t for the persistence of publisher Alfred A. Knopf, the celebrated cookbook author and actor wouldn’t have penned her account of early days in “Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India.” Madhur Jaffrey admits showing an utter lack of interest in writing the book, which was released recently.

“My editor had been asking me to pen down my memoirs for the 10 years and I had turned down the offer,” says Jaffrey, in an exclusive interview from New York City, which is now home. “Finally, I agreed to write the book on the condition that it would be only about my childhood and not my adulthood years.”

The nearly 300-page “Climbing the Mango Trees” took Jaffrey just nine months to write. But she paints a vivid and colorful picture of the bygone days, beginning with her grandparents’ sprawling mansion by the Yamuna River in Delhi. “My grandfather had built his house in what was once a thriving orchard of jujubes, mulberries, tamarinds, and mangoes,” she remarks. “His numerous grandchildren, like hungry flocks of birds, attacked the mangoes while they were still green and sour. As grown-ups snored through the hot afternoons in rooms cooled with wetted, sweet-smelling vetiver curtains, the unsupervised children were on every branch of every mango tree, armed with a ground mixture of salt, pepper, red chilies, and roasted cumin.”

A lesson in the history of Delhi, an eight-year stay in Kanpur, summer holidays in Shimla, family picnics in the capital, the pains of partition and the aftermath, including Independence Day, are covered in detail while showing great anxiety and distress by Jaffrey. Her observations on the Punjabi refugees who settled in Delhi after the partition are a good history lesson for the youth. “When India was partitioned, fleeing Hindu refugees from the newly formed West Pakistan gathered their valuables and ran in an easterly direction,” she notes. “They carried their tandoors with them so they could cook along the way. One such family that fled all the way to Delhi had decided to open Moti Mahal and offer its plain village cooking to a city of culinary sophisticates. The rest, as they say, is history.” Indeed. Also noteworthy is Jaffrey’s mention of influence of samples of heady flavors in the lunch boxes of Muslim, Jain and Hindu Punjabi friends at Queen Mary’s Higher Secondary School.



Jaffrey also offers a glimpse of her childhood by spreading 36 black-and-white photographs of her family, including her parents, uncles, aunts, sisters, grandparents and cousins, throughout the book. How did she acquire the old photographs? “I begged and borrowed from my relatives,” she reveals. “One evening, back in India, we all sat talk with the photographs and reminisced about old picnics and weddings.”

The noted cookbook author does have to make a point with the latest book. “It shows an aspect of India people may not know, a period of India as a colony and the beginning of independence, what kind of a city Delhi was at one time,” she says. “It’s all a part of my growing up.”

Where there is a Madhur Jaffrey book, there are recipes, at least 30 of them in this book of childhood memoirs. Some include shami kebabas, ground lamb samosas, ground lamb with peas, chicken curry, moong dal with greens, tamarind chutney for snack foods, and carrots with fenugreek greens. Any favorites? “I like them all,” she replies. And what about mangoes? “Oh, I love them, the Alphonsos,” she says. “Unfortunately, I don’t get good ones here in New York City. But when I visit India, which is every year, I eat plenty of them.”

As for the big screen, Jaffrey can be seen in the upcoming “Hiding Divya,” a film by Rehana Mirza and Rohi Mirza Pandya, on mental illness in the South Asian community. “It’s lightly written and will be shown at the sixth annual Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival in early November in NYC,” she says.

And Jaffrey isn’t yet done with writing cookbooks. She has started work on another and yes, she is penning down her debut novel. In the meantime, happy cooking!

RECIPE FROM MADHUR JAFFREY’S BOOK “CLIMBING THE MANGO TREES,” COURTESY OF ALFRED A. KNOPF

GRANDMOTHER’S CAULIFLOWER WITH CHEESE (Cheese Vali Gobi)

SERVES 4-6

I don’t have my grandmother’s exact recipe. I never asked her, being too young at the time to know better. But the recipe here is a good approximation (as Jimmy Durante, the American comedian, used to say, “Da nose knows”) and utterly delicious.

Do not use jalapeno or serrano chilies for Indian dishes. They have the wrong texture and flavor. Green bird’s-eye chilies or any long, slim, thin-skinned variety, such as cayenne, are ideal. If you can’t find them, use ½-3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper instead of ¼ teaspoon.

2 tablespoons olive or other vegetable oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 ½ pounds (8 cups) medium-sized cauliflower florets, cut so each floret has a steam
1 ¾ cups grated fresh tomatoes
One 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated to a pulp on the finest part of a grater or Microplane
2 fresh hot green chilies, cut into slim rounds
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon ground coriander
¾ teaspoon salt, or to taste
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons heavy cream
¼ cup coarsely grated sharp Cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Pour the oil into a large, preferably nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat. When it is hot, put in the cumin seeds. Let them sizzle for 10 seconds. Add the cauliflower florets, and stir them around for 2 minutes. Add the grated tomatoes, ginger, chilies, cayenne, turmeric, ground coriander, and salt. Stir to mix. Stir and cook for 5-6 minutes, or until the tomatoes are almost absorbed and the cauliflower is almost done. Add the cilantro and mix it in.

Put the contents of the pan into an ovenproof dish about 8 inches square, add the cream, mix, and sprinkle the cheese over the top. Put in the top third of the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and developed a few light brown spots. Serve hot.



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