Until I met chef Floyd Cardoz, Christmas meant partying or chilling with friends after putting in long hours at the restaurants I worked at. It’s only when I joined Hunger Inc. in 2015, as a sous chef at The Bombay Canteen, that I realised just how meaningful the festival was. To chef Cardoz, Christmas meant time off with the family. He insisted on celebrating the festival with them in New York. We would finalise the festive menu before that and then he would take off. [Cardoz, the prolific chef behind restaurants such as the Tabla and Paowalla in New York and The Bombay Canteen and O Pedro in Mumbai, was widely credited with making American critics take Indian food seriously. He died last year of covid-19].
The selection would feature his heirloom recipes—those that signified warmth and togetherness. For our first Christmas feast at O Pedro, the Goa-inspired restaurant and bar that opened in 2017, he tweaked his mom’s sorpotel recipe. At his family home in Goa, this dish was an integral part of the Yuletide menu. Invitations would be sent out to relatives and friends for the feast. Making this dish was quite laborious, as the whole pig was broken down, and every part used in some form or the other. The village would gather together as the sorpotel cooked on a coconut wood fire.
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He brought that memory alive at O Pedro. It was really heartwarming to see his emotional connection with his mother’s recipe. He would break it down to help us recreate those memories for our diners in Mumbai. While working on those dishes, I came to realise just what the Christmas meal meant to him and his family. I was never able to celebrate Christmas with chef Cardoz, and would have loved the opportunity, but putting together the menu with him offered me a glimpse of some of those precious family moments.
This year, in his memory, we are doing a special menu, titled “12 Days to Christmas”. The à la carte menu features bacon choriz pulao and, of course, the pork sorpotel with red rice toddy-spiked sannas. There is also chef Cardoz’s Christmas lamb with sticky sauce and turnip salad, besides the customary dry-aged duck and crab xec xec. While growing up in Salegaon, he would have duck in xacuti curry, which he then went on to put on the Tabla menu in New York. The magic lay in the way the duck was roasted.
We have taken such recipes that he worked on, and which were close to his heart. There are recipes that his mother has given us access to, and we have tried to put things together that he would have liked to have on his Christmas table.
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Chef Hussain Shahzad is executive chef , The Bombay Canteen and O Pedro (Hunger Inc. Hospitality)
As told to Avantika Bhuyan