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To Papaji, with love – mumbai guide

As a 20-something in New York, Sameer Seth, now the co-founder and CEO of Hunger Inc, remembers how nervous he was while appearing for an interview with celebrated chef Floyd Cardoz nearly a decade ago. “I had heard so much about him and was in awe of him. But by the end of it, I was disarmed by him. He probably meant it as a joke then, but he said, ‘If you decide to open a restaurant in India, tell me. I would like to join you’,” he shares. Little did Seth realise at the time that in a few years, he, along with Cardoz, and friend Yash Bhanage, would go on to whip up not one, but three brands — The Bombay Canteen (TBC), O Pedro and Bombay Sweet Shop — to celebrate the multiplicity of Indian food, and cement a bond that goes beyond the kitchen.

Nearly six months since the Bandra-bred Goan master chef, who put Indian cuisine on the world map, passed away, the team is doling out a delicious tribute, including a delivery menu and a scholarship, to celebrate Cardoz’s birthday today.

Bhanage and Seth tell us the past six months have been the hardest in their lives. “Going into the pandemic while losing our dear mentor, father figure [fondly called Papaji] and friend, was difficult. It has taken a village to cope with the loss,” Seth admits, adding that they’ve turned to Cardoz, their “North Star”, in times of crisis, trying to imagine what he would do in their place. Recollecting a key lesson that the chef taught him, especially significant to roll with the current times, co-founder and COO Bhanage shares, “Weeks before the launch of TBC, we were brainstorming on ideas. At that time, my first instinct to new ideas would be to say no. He sat me down and said he got where I was coming from, but that as leaders, we need to start saying yes, so that our team members, too, push the boundaries. That was him — one moment he was a friend, and in another, a mentor.”

From showing Bhanage how to peel garlic quickly, mentoring young chefs like Thomas Zacharias, Hussain Shahzad and Girish Nayak, among others, to tweaking recipes over Facetime and playing pranks in the kitchen, Cardoz took the team under his wing. But it was his vision — to portray India and its sustainable culinary diversity to the world in a way they’d understand — that laid the foundation for all three brands. “Back then, no one was talking about Indian food. So many people advised us against changing menus seasonally. But he always said we need to celebrate the lesser known ingredients,” explains Seth, adding they travelled a lot to draw up the menus.

The limited-edition menu is a tribute to late chef Cardoz
The limited-edition menu is a tribute to late chef Cardoz

Reminiscing one such trip to Portugal and how Cardoz sometimes called himself Portuguese, and at other times, Goan, Bhanage tells us, “Seeing Cardoz tell the story of what influences travelled from Portugal to Goa, and how they changed, was delightful.” To honour this infectious curiosity and dedication to education, the team is offering The Floyd Cardoz Scholarship, in partnership with the Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration, Manipal, for aspiring students.

Cardoz’s knack for elevating the humblest of desi ingredients — like double-frying arbi and giving it a chaat spin — is reflected in the limited edition birthday menu, titled #FloydsFood. Seth points to the jackfruit mussalam carnitas, inspired by the murg mussalam at a Lucknow nawab’s home. “I was on a shoot with Cardoz in Lucknow for Ugly Delicious. He documented each aspect of the dish and showed it to Hussain, who created this as a tribute to that story,” Seth recollects. From his wife Barkha’s methi chicken curry and his Parle G-earl grey pot de crème, to casa Cardoz’s b**f short rib biryani and the wild mushroom upma he cooked for the Top Chef Masters finale, the menu is a fun mix of the treats the chef loved to devour, his own food memories, and dishes whipped up to honour his legacy. “Some are inspired by his tales of eating at Ayaz’s on Hill Road. Then, there’s spare parts tikka, that’s inspired by his late-night munchies while studying at IHM Dadar,” Bhanage adds.

There are dishes from Cardoz’s international restaurants Tabla, North End Grill and Paowalla, too. When we ask them how the chef would want us to lap up this menu, the duo chorus: “Get your family together, share the food and the stories. And keep your mind and
heart open.”

On October 2 to 18, from 12 pm to 9 pm
Call 9819837621
Log on to order.opedromumbai.com or Swiggy or Zomato

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