The pioneering chef was working on the blends with Burlap & Barrel before he died of Covid-19 in March.
Burlap & Barrel Floyd Cardoza Masala
Credit: Burlap & Barrel

Floyd Cardoz was always meticulous. The renowned chef, lauded for his incredible mastery of flavor, had started work on a set of Indian spice blends early last year. He pored over each element for months, debating the merits of cinnamon sourced from Vietnam vs. cinnamon from Zanzibar, figuring out his perfect ratio of star anise to cardamom, demanding only the finest quality chili powder from Kashmir. 

In January, after nearly a year of development, his blends, in partnership with budding spice company Burlap & Barrel, were finally ready. The chef made plans during a trip to Mumbai where he saw Burlap & Barrel’s co-founder Ethan Frisch to go blend the spices in upstate New York when they both returned. That trip never materialized. Tragically, Cardoz passed away shortly after in March, due to complications from the coronavirus. 

Barkha Cardoz, Floyd’s wife, refused to let the project die with him. “This is his legacy,” she says. “It was his dream to get every person on the face of this earth to have Indian spices in their kitchen cabinets. He just wanted everyone to love Indian flavors as much as he did.” 

In turn, it is now part of her mission to honor his life. “Floyd wanted to teach everyone about Indian food,” she says. “He didn’t get to do it completely. I can’t sit quiet and let it go.” 

Last month, Barkha went upstate in Floyd’s stead, hand-mixing 800 pounds of spices to make three of Floyd’s blends: garam masala, Goan masala, and Kashmiri masala. The spices will be available starting October 4th, two days after what would have been Floyd’s 60th birthday. 

Burlap & Barrel Floyd Cardoza Masala
Credit: Burlap & Barrel

The idea for the blends had emerged decades before. “I would cook two meals a day: Indian food for Floyd, and pasta or some other dish for our two sons before I took them to sports practice,” she says.

As a busy mom and wife, Barkha would turn to pre-made spice blends at the grocery store to make cooking a quicker process. “As someone who was very passionate about spices and using them fresh, Floyd would get upset at me,” Barkha recalls fondly. “You are not using the good stuff,” he would say. “He could always tell when I tried to sneak in spice blends from the Indian grocery store,” she says. “Floyd would say the food tasted ‘one note.’” 

Floyd offered to make them instead. He set about regularly whipping up small batches of each spice blend so that they would remain fresh.

“He was one of those very kind souls where it didn’t matter if it took him extra steps or time, he had to get it right, had to do it right,” Barkha says. She was hoping he would turn the blends into a business for years, but the time finally felt right in 2019. Floyd reached out to Frisch, who once worked as a cook at Floyd’s legendary NYC restaurant Tabla, with his idea for a line. 

The three blends are deeply personal to Floyd, says Frisch. “They all connect to him and his family’s recipes.” 

There’s the Goan masala—which features lots of turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger—that was inspired by the everyday coconut milk-based curries Floyd’s mom would make for him, and that Barkha would make for their sons. The Kashmiri masala—a potent mix made with Kashmiri chili, coriander, and fennel—was inspired by the flavors of rogan josh, the Kashmiri dish he fell madly in love with while traveling as a teenager. 

Perhaps the most personal of them all is the garam masala. “Floyd’s garam masala is quite different from other versions you might find in that it is quite sweet,” says Frisch. Floyd couldn’t find a version that he liked on the market. Typically garam masala has a number of savory elements like coriander and cumin, but Floyd’s version is almost equal parts in weight of cinnamon, smoked star anise, and cardamom, with a bit of clove and some mace. 

“It is perfect for sprinkling on a dish at the end because it is so aromatic and so sweet,” explains Frisch. Floyd was so punctilious about his recipe that he sent Frisch the amounts required for a single serving. “We had to scale the recipe up nearly 7,000 times,” says Frisch with a laugh. 

Burlap & Barrel Floyd Cardoza Masala
Credit: Burlap & Barrel

There’s no “correct” way to use any of the blends, says Barkha. Use them when roasting meat, toss them with vegetables, throw a tablespoon of the garam masala in your baking. She hopes—as Floyd did—that the project will make people feel more comfortable with Indian spices.

“People get overwhelmed when you ask them to buy all of these spices to make a recipe—overwhelmed at the price tag and overwhelmed with what to do with all of them,” she says. “He thought blends would be a simpler way in for people … the best way to teach them. Floyd’s journey was not just cooking, it was teaching.” 

Barkha sees these three blends (and the many others that have not been released yet) as a way for Floyd to continue teaching cooks everywhere even though he is no longer with us.

“He was this bright star that woke up every morning, asking, ‘What can I do next?’” she says. “I just don’t want people to forget him.”