Floyd Cardoz has come a long way from his first day at the Taj Mahal Inter-Continental Hotel in Mumbai, where his first assignment was to peel a 440-pound bag of onions. Apparently that wasn't enough to change his mind about a career in food because he spent more time training in Switzerland, then took jobs at restaurants in Zurich and New York before signing on as executive sous chef at Lespinasse. After five years there, he jumped ship, opening Tabla and its more casual sibling, Bread Bar, with Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group.
When he arrived in New York in the late 1980s, Cardoz took up residence in Queens, where he discovered baseball and the Mets. He was won over almost immediately. And he's clearly thrilled that his company will be operating restaurants in the Mets' new stadium, Citi Field, which debuts in the spring of 2009. Cardoz lives with his wife and two sons in New Jersey.
The onion-peeling experience might have sent a weaker person running. When did you first cook?
I started when I was nine. If I went into the kitchen and helped the cook, I figured out I would get more food — and the cook would give me the choice pieces of everything first. Then I started doing barbecues for my teenaged friends. I started school to be a biochemist, and I realized I didn't want to do that. When I switched to culinary school, I was ridiculed by my friends: “You should be a doctor or an engineer, why would you want to be a cook?” My family had a maid, a cook and a chauffeur. You didn't go to school to learn how to cook; you paid people to do it.
You have done a lot to raise awareness of Indian cooking, particularly the use of spices.
A lot of people still haven't tried it. But what makes me happy is that people love the flavors, and you see chefs and restaurants, even in France, using Indian flavors and spices more now.
What's a fantasy day off for you?
I try to cook three meals, play ball with my sons, go to the batting cages, read, garden, listen to music, sometimes go fishing. I don't like going out.
So you're a homebody. What kinds of foods are we likely to see on your table?
It varies. I try to cook with one of my sons, so it depends on what they want to eat. We have a rule: You have to taste it; if you don't like it, fine. We have a small garden, and we grow vegetables. I love doing tomatoes — normally I have five or six heirloom varieties-along with chilis, basil, beans, strawberries, eggplant, thyme, cilantro and sage. On my days off I spend a lot of time weeding, picking and trimming.
And when you do go out?
We tend to normally stay toward Asian flavors. We eat Korean a lot. I love noodles and Japanese food. And I love small plates — not just tapas, any cuisine.
So do you think the Citi Field crowd is ready to ditch the hot dogs for curry and samosas?
No, I'm doing a taco concept.
Do you ever have a chance to catch a game these days?
Maybe 8-10 games. It's hard to get me to leave work early unless we have tickets to a Mets game.
Maybe the new digs will turn the tide for the Mets. There's always next year!