When I heard Chef Floyd Cardoz lost his battle to Covid-19 on March 25 I was shocked and felt a wave of deep sadness for his two sons, Peter and Justin; his wife, Barkha in New Jersey; his mother, Beryl, along with extended family in Bandra, Mumbai and his restaurant teams based in Mumbai and in New York City. I immediately texted my friend, Chef Melissa Kelly, owner of Primo, an award-winning ‘full-circle’ kitchen in Rockland Maine, who was at a loss for words. A few minutes later she sent me a text, “I’m cooking Indian food to honor Floyd, can you be involved somehow?” I was so touched.
Chef Kelly had eaten at Tabla and the Bombay Bread bar and was a big fan of Chef Cardoz. She was taken with his kindness, hospitality and the amazing food. She went onto share how he had brought Barkha and the kids to dine at The Old Chatham Sheepherding Company when she was executive chef there and won her first James Beard award for Best Chef, Northeast in 1993. “I admired him and his cooking for a long time,” Kelly said. “My first time meeting him. He was a kind, gentle soul with whom I connected instantly.” Sadly, they never cooked together.
I never knew Floyd. I never had the opportunity to dine at any of his restaurants but somehow he touched my life. I realized that we had quite a bit in common. We were both raised in Mumbai, in a bustling burb called Bandra, about 15 minutes from each other. I greatly admired his brother Kim Cardoz who was a fantastic local musician. I had never even heard of Floyd back in Mumbai, nor did I realize that he and Kim were brothers, until I heard of Floyd’s passing and read the numerous articles about his incredible career. I learned he originally went to college for Biochemistry and soon realized that the coat he truly wanted was the chef’s coat, not a lab coat. He had his sights on getting out of Mumbai and moving to New York and working with the best chefs in the world. He set his eyes on and attended one of the finest hospitality schools in the world, Les Roches, located in Switzerland, and soon found his way across the Atlantic to the big apple working for famed chef Gray Kunz at Lespinasse.
Back in 1997, he was the first Indian chef to elevate Indian cuisine with his smash hit restaurant, Tabla, in partnership with Danny Meyer from Union Square Hospitality Group. One of my biggest regrets was not getting to eat at Tabla when I lived in the city. I was a college student back then at the American Musical Dramatic Academy, living on $3/day, and eating at Tabla was not in the cards. But just knowing it existed gave me a sense of quiet pride. Thanks to Floyd’s hard work and passion, Tabla was more than an Indian restaurant, it was a statement to the world that world-class Indian cuisine had arrived in NYC!
In the following weeks after Floyd’s passing, I felt compelled to learn more about his life and career. I read hundreds of tributes and articles about Floyd. But it was one article on plateonline.com, written by a close friend of the Cardoz family, food writer Jacqueline Raposo, that deeply resonated with me.
“My heart breaks remembering him (Floyd) saying that his ideal “last supper” would have been his mom’s xacuti and Barkha’s saag gosht…,” Raposo writes.
I shared this quote with Chef Kelly who totally got it! Her mom’s eggplant Parmesan is legendary in her book!
We both knew Chef Kelly had to make the Xacuti in Floyd’s honor.
I felt inspired and took a stab at making my first chicken xacuti in my Maine kitchen while Chef Kelly decided to make her version showcasing Primo restaurant’s prized pork instead.
So, here’s to you Floyd Cardoz, in your honor, a dish close to your heart. Thank you for shining your light on your Goan culinary roots and Indian heritage. We are celebrating your life and legacy this week in Maine.
Goa Xacuti (pronounced SHA-koo-ti))
An iconic celebrated Goan dish bursting with complex flavor profiles of toasted ground coconut 🥥 infused with spicy red 🌶, coconut vinegar, star anise, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, fennel, Tellicherry peppercorns, turmeric, garlic, ginger, bay leaves, curry leaves, tamarind paste, onions, potatoes, 🥥 oil and fresh cilantro.
🌴Back in Bandra, my mom would labor for at least two hours over the xacuti prep after mass on Sundays or on special occasions. She hand-grated the coconut 🥥 using her old-fashioned grinder, no short cuts. Then she would toast the fresh coconut flesh on her tava (skillet) with whole spices and then grind it all up mortar-pestle-style. Lunch was always a late one. I’d hover around mom in our tiny shoe-box of a kitchen asking over and over again in anticipation: “I’m hungry, is it ready yet?”
Years later, in my kitchen, it seems like nothing’s changed…xacuti still takes patience and time (minus hand-grating the coconut) and I do believe it tastes better the following day! There’s something magical about the warm melange of spices resting together overnight that must take it to the next level. I still find myself hovering around the pot as the aromas get more intense. Only now it’s my two kids, Sophia and Justus, who impatiently ask, “Is the Xacuti ready yet, mommy????????”
I am so thankful to my Aunt Claire for sending along our family Xacuti recipe all the way from Dona Paula, Goa.
- 2 pounds of boneless or boned in chicken
- 2 white potatoes, each cut into ⅛ths
- 2 large onions, finely diced
- 1 cup unsweetened shredded dried coconut or freshly grated
- 11/2 cups chicken broth
- 4 tablespoons refined coconut oil
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro - garnish
- Masala Powder
- 2 curry leaves, fresh preferred, or dry as substitute
- 3 tablespoons coriander seeds
- 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
- 2 black cardamom
- 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
- 1 star anise
- 2 Bay leaves
- 2" piece, cinnamon stick
- 8 cloves
- ½ teaspoon peppercorns
- ½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
- ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 tablespoon Kashmiri chili powder
- Masala Paste
- 10 dried red Kashmiri chilis
- 4 teaspoons garlic paste
- 2 teaspoons ginger paste
- ½ tablespoon tamarind paste
- ¼ cup Goa Toddy Vinegar (Coconut or Heinz vinegar may be substituted)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- Xacuti Masala Powder
- In a cast iron skillet, dry roast the coconut on low heat until slightly brown, but not burnt. Set aside and allow the toasted coconut to cool down.
- In a separate cask iron skillet, dry roast the whole spices and the turmeric and Kashmiri chili powder on low heat releasing their essential oils. Add the dry spices to the coconut and allow to cool.
- Grind the coconut and the spices in a spice grinder to a fine powder.
- Set aside this mixture to cool down for 15 minutes.
- Xacuti Masala Paste
- Meanwhile in a glass bowl soak the dried red chilis in the vinegar for 30 minutes.
- Once the xacuti masala powder cools down, add the soaked red chilis with the vinegar to it and grind it all together making a wet xacuti masala paste in the blender.
- Now, in a dutch oven, on medium heat, add the coconut oil and saute the finely chopped onions and the curry leaves until translucent.
- Add the garlic and ginger pastes and cook for another minute, stirring frequently.
- Now, add the chicken and saute until the meat is browned, for about 5 minutes.
- Add the wet xacuti masala paste, tamarind, chicken broth, salt and sugar and stir well.
- Gently add the quartered potatoes, give it a good stir and bring to a boil.
- Turn down to a simmer, cover the dutch oven and allow to simmer for 30 minutes.
- Add the chopped cilantro and serve with steaming hot rice.