Floyd Cardoz

F&W Star Chef

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Long-known for his spectacularly creative Indian cooking at Tabla, Floyd Cardoz is now the chef at New York City’s North End Grill. He tells F&W how to pick a perfect holiday food gift and more.

What’s your favorite holiday food gift?
I love giving something that’s a little more practical, like brandied or bourbon cherries, spice mixes, things that people are going to use, that won’t sit on a shelf. Or alcohol that people are going to drink. So if someone likes Scotch, make sure to give them a Scotch gift, not a liqueur they’d never want. For spice mixes I do rubs, like mustard and coriander and pepper. I keep the packaging simple: I just put it in a bag and give a recipe. I also like to give a bacon-of-the-month subscription, because who doesn’t love bacon?

What’s your favorite holiday cocktail?
I love Champagne with something—a little tinted liqueur, or something light, like pomegranate seeds, they look nice and festive. A tamarind margarita also goes down very easily. I make that year-round, because people love it so much. I put in tamarind paste, triple sec or Cointreau, a good tequila, and a splash of orange juice and fresh lime juice.

Can you share a great entertaining tip?
As soon as people come in, have food ready to go. It could be as simple as a terrine or platter of charcuterie, anything so it’s easy to eat and can sit out for a while without going bad.

What are 3 don’t-miss places to visit in New York City?

  1. If I have guests coming to the city, I always take them down Fifth Avenue to see the lights and the window displays, particularly the Lord & Taylor showroom windows. In Midtown, Fifth Avenue has such a festive, happy, it’s-Christmas feeling to it.
  2. If my guests have kids, I always take them to FAO Schwarz. It’s a madhouse, but it’s also something you’ve got to do if you come to New York.
  3. I always love going to the Union Square Greenmarket at the holidays. They have the wreaths, the dried flowers and all the foods that you want to serve, everything you associate with the season.

What’s the one dish you’re most known for?
At the holidays, for my family every year I make a Goan pork stew called sorpatel, with steamed rice cakes called sanna, which my mom and my grandmother and great-grandmother used to always have at Christmas. The stew is made from pork belly with a little bit of liver, vinegar, chiles and a lot of garlic, clove and cinnamon. The meat is smoked and fried and stewed. It takes three days. It’s not easy but it’s absolutely delicious. The steamed rice cakes are slightly fermented—you soak the rice overnight, then grind the rice, then let it sit open overnight so it kind of ferments, then you add a little fresh coconut so it has a slight sweetness. It’s not as sour as a sourdough, but it has a slight sourness to it.

What’s your favorite cookbook of all time?
I don’t read too many cookbooks, but there is one book that I absolutely love, called 50 Great Curries of India, by Camellia Panjabi. The 50 curries are just so different, but so authentic, too. She gave me a copy maybe 10 or 15 years ago. I just respect her tremendously, and I’ve been suggesting it to everybody ever since.

What’s one technique everyone should know?
Basting meat. I use a spoon, not a basting bulb. It helps give the meat the flavors of whatever you’re cooking it with, like garlic or rosemary. And it helps give the meat color. I generally suggest people baste as many times as they possibly can. Even if you’re just cooking a steak, I’d say baste it every 4 to 5 minutes if you can.