I’ve been around the New York restaurant scene for more than 30 years and few names come up with as much respect and affection as that of Floyd Cardoz. I couldn’t believe I never met him until I went to North End Grill a few days ago to celebrate the birthday of a great friend. It was a girl’s lunch out — white wine (one from Greece and another from Austria), a torchon of foie gras with rhubarb-tangerine preserve and grilled brioche; soft-scrambled eggs with bacon and ramps, a salad of escarole, endive and radicchio tossed with blood oranges and Marcona almonds, linguine with flaked halibut, fava leaves and citrus gremolata. There were outstanding “Thrice-Fried Spiced Fries” peppered with mango powder, paprika and cumin, and, for dessert, an awesome butterscotch pot de crème with chocolate streusel and “single Maltmallows” (homemade marshmallows perfumed with scotch), and a sexy rendition of chocolate mousse coupled with candied macadamia nuts and black currant sorbet.
So why am I telling you all this, other than to make your mouth water? It’s because the menu tells the story of a chef’s journey — from the bold, iconic, three-star, Indian-inspired Tabla, to the new American-style grill recently opened in New York’s Financial District, by Chef Cardoz and Danny Meyer. It isn’t an easy act to follow — your own — and even harder when you know all eyes are upon you: Those of the most jaded New Yorkers, and maybe more importantly, those of your disciples, including some of the city’s bold name chefs including Ben Pollinger from Oceana and Dan Kluger of abckitchen. This is a chef who is “totally present” to his new surroundings and his new-style cuisine: Nary a nod to the pantry he left behind except, perhaps, for that dusting of mango powder on those addictive fries.
I admire this move. It is risky and rewarding. It is not yet perfect but that’s the magic of all of Danny Meyer’s enterprises (Danny is the owner of Union Square Hospitality Group and the creator of Gramercy Tavern, Maialino, Blue Smoke, Union Square Café, and Shake Shack, just to name a few). He and his chefs “work it” and work it until whatever it is they’re doing becomes a “prime number” in the infinite realm of experiential dining.
Many chefs, like many artists, apply their creativity to a singular modality (a particular cuisine) that comes to define them. But today, the emphasis is on the craft of being a chef, allowing for expansion beyond one’s own culture or culinary training. Floyd Cardoz began his life in India and graduated in biochemistry. He understands why food does what it does. He has worked in the best kitchens in India and Switzerland and spent five years in the celebrated kitchen of Gray Kunz’s Lespinasse. Whether Floyd’s “Cod Throats Meuniere” or his “Grilled Clam Pizza” become the next big thing doesn’t really matter. Most important to him is the camaraderie, respect and competence he has bestowed upon each person who has ever worked for him. He is a “chef among chefs,” they’ll tell you, a true Top Chef Master.