Restaurateur AD Singh and Indian-American chef Floyd Cardoz talk Sindhi wives, who have made businessmen out of them, over a lunch of crabs, clams and other fresh catch
AD Singh and Floyd Cardoz discussed their common love for seafood at Gajalee, Lower Parel. Pics/Bipin Kokate
When staffers at Lower Parel's Malvani seafood haven Gajalee flock to our table with a display of fish and live crabs, restaurateur AD Singh quickly looks away. "I don't want to see what I am going to eat. But Floyd isn't squeamish," AD laughs as he turns to chef Floyd Cardoz of The Bombay Canteen, who's eyeing the catch.
"Oh, you have Kane (Lady Fish)! This is the season for it but you don't get it everywhere," says Floyd. However, when the manager says they have a tandoori preparation, he suggests, "Make it coastal style."
Then, AD enquires about a Gajalee signature — fresh crab stuffed with crabmeat baked in a spicy Malvani curry. Since it's unavailable, he settles for Butter Garlic Pepper Crab. "I need my seafood fix, because it's difficult to find it there," shares New York-based Cardoz, on a trip to the city.
Singh, who recently launched Lady Baga, a Goan shack-style restaurant at Delhi's Connaught Place and is gearing for a host of openings in Mumbai this year (including a Guppy, and Toast And Tonic in BKC), tells us he rescheduled his trip to Delhi to catch up with Floyd over this meal. The duo, who've kept track of each other's careers but met for the first time only two years ago, bond over a hearty meal and freewheeling conversation.
Floyd: I love the name Lady Baga.
AD: Thank you. Were you brought up in Goa?
Floyd: No, I was brought up in Bandra, but I have family in Goa. Recently, we [Yash Bhanage, Sameer Seth and I] explored
its local fare, because you need to go beyond fish curry-rice or pork vindaloo.
AD: I agree (laughs). But having said that, it is actually the mainstay on our menu because we're still in the opening stages.
(Bombil Fry, Lady Fish Fry and Bangda Ambat Tikhat arrive)
AD: (Biting into the Bombil Fry) It's stunning. It's probably cooked in hot oil. That's why it's so crisp, right?
Floyd: Yes, it's one of my favourites.
AD: We serve bangda (mackerel) in Delhi, but few like it, because it's slightly smelly. They feel smelly fish means it isn't fresh.
Floyd: In fact, the mackerel you get in India is extremely fresh but, sadly, people don't order it. It is time they started tasting everything because ultimately, it's seafood that is going to sustain us.
Krutika: Your restaurants have distinct personalities. Has the standalone gone beyond food or table-and-chair experience?
AD: I am jealous of Floyd because today, it is really about the chef's
vision, focusing on a single restaurant, making the experience better every day. The restaurant business has become more competitive. When I joined, the standalone was unborn and it was just three of us (Rahul Akerkar, Ritu Dalmia and I) with the benefit of an open canvas. We built the standalone industry and pushed the hotels to amp up their game.
Floyd: You actually set the groundwork for the present scenario...
AD: Now, I think that hotels should look at outsourcing F&B to restaurants. That would be a credit for the stand-alone industry, and a win-win for everybody. The stand-alone scene in Mumbai has expanded. I'm impressed at how restaurateurs are roping in professionals for highly specialised roles.
Floyd: Yes, we've just hired someone to travel across the country and source ingredients for us. We are also willing to share the information with other restaurants because that's the only way all of us can survive and grow.
AD: Wow. We could also formally associate with you on that if you like. Our mission is to open 100 restaurants in five years. We're also looking at overseas markets.
Floyd: Also, today, restaurants are not only about serving great food but also making the entire experience fun and accessible. The reason many Americans don't go to Indian restaurants is because they don't want to look stupid asking for terms they don't understand. They need a connection and you have to find that.
AD Singh and Floyd Cardoz
(We order Butter Garlic Pepper Crab and Clams Koshimbir)
Floyd: (Picks a crab leg) I believe that this part of the crab is tastier than the body. I am going to use my hands if that's okay…
AD: For the next 10 minutes, there'll be total silence till we finish this.
Floyd: I am so full. At home, I usually just eat breakfast and dinner. My wife would be happy to know I've had lunch.
AD: You're married?
Floyd: Yes. We went to IHM
together. She's a Sindhi.
AD: Like mine (laughs). From restaurateurs and dreamers, our Sindhi wives have taught us how to be businessmen.
A person you'd like to cook for:
AD: Well, I don't cook, but I regret not partnering with is Sachin Tendulkar when he came to us with the idea of opening a chain of sports bars. We let the opportunity slip.
Floyd: I'd have said Barack Obama, but I got a chance to cook for him. I would look to cook for Michelle Obama. She is a foodie.
An overrated dish/ingredient:
AD: An overdose of superfoods.
An experiment that failed:
Floyd: AT TBC, we tried a pasta spaghetti dish with a rasam sauce, finished with shrimp. At the time, customers didn't get it. Maybe we should bring it back now.
AD: Shutting down my Japanese restaurant Ai, and LAP lounge. But I've learnt from those mistakes.