Food Fit for a Film

Floyd Cardoz came into his own as a cook while working in Europe. Now, the esteemed chef is creating the food that will steal the scenes in the film, "The Hundred Foot Journey."

Floyd Cardoz at North End Grill, his former Manhattan restaurant.
Photo by Brent Herrig

The cooking began at 7 each morning and continued until 9 at night. This went on for four days, as the kitchen turned out classics like boeuf Bourguignon and duck à l’orange. Appropriately enough, the location was Epinay-sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris.

But for Floyd Cardoz, the challenge was not to satisfy discerning French palates. Rather, the esteemed chef was creating the food that might steal the scenes in The Hundred-Foot Journey, a new film that strikes remarkably close to home for Cardoz, a resident of Verona and veteran of some of New York’s most renowned restaurants.

The film, which opens August 8, is based on the novel of the same name by Richard Morais. The author met Cardoz at Tabla, the latter’s renowned, Indian-accented restaurant in Manhattan, just as the novel was coming out. They quickly discovered the uncanny similarities between Cardoz and Hassan Haji, Morais’s fictional hero. Both had left India as young men and realized their culinary dreams in Europe. Both mastered French cuisine only to confront racism, or at least culinary chauvinism, when they tried to cook outside the ethnic box. And both became known for food that, as Cardoz puts it, “celebrates the flavors and the techniques and spices,” rather than “replicates a cuisine.”

Morais enlisted Cardoz as a sort of culinary double for the film, which stars Helen Mirren and was directed by Lasse Hallström. Cardoz’s vibrant dishes fill in for those of Manish Dayal, the young actor playing Haji. Mirren is Madame Mallory, the imperious chef who becomes Haji’s mentor.

Shooting took place on five different sets. Cardoz cooked in a mobile kitchen—a food truck with professional ovens and dishwashers. His crew of three comprised a food stylist and cook from England and a Frenchman who knew the local markets. They cooked close to 35 different dishes, four to seven servings of each, depending on the timing of the shoots and how the food could be expected to hold up. Cardoz wanted the food not only to look delicious, but to actually be edible at the moment it was filmed.

Cardoz and crew also provided snacks for the cameramen, who learned to wander into the kitchen whenever hungry. One night he cooked dinner for director Hallström.

Cardoz, who originally planned to be a biochemist, came to America in 1987 and paid his dues, sometimes cooking breakfast in one restaurant, lunch in another and dinner in a third, throughout New York’s five boroughs. Eventually, Gray Kunz offered him a position at Lespinasse, and seven years later, famed restaurateur Danny Meyer approached him to do Tabla.

More recently, the two collaborated on North End Grill, also in Manhattan. Along the way, Cardoz became a TV favorite, winning Bravo’s Top Chef Masters in 2012. He has written a cookbook, One Spice, Two Spice (William Morrow), and established a philanthropy, the Young Scientist Foundation.

After 17 years of high-end restaurant hours, Cardoz left North End Grill in April to reconnect with his wife, Barkha, and their two sons before the older one took off for college. What’s next? “I’m looking to do a restaurant in the city, but as chef/owner, which would give me more freedom.”

But first he’ll get to enjoy his food’s big-screen debut.

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