When celebrated chef Floyd Cardoz died this past March as a result of COVID-19, the outpouring of grief reflected the impact he had made on so many people. While many are familiar with Cardoz because of his TV appearances—he competed on Top Chef and won Top Chef Masters—he was an absolute legend in New York and Mumbai, where he was a cook and restaurateur. And now, carrying on his legacy, his wife Barkha Cardoz and the single-origin spice company Burlap & Barrel have released three masalas based on his own personal blends.
Ethan Frisch, one of Burlap & Barrel’s co-founders, says that he first met Mr. Cardoz in 2010 when he went to work at his famed restaurant, Tabla. When Frisch decided to start Burlap & Barrel, Mr. Cardoz was one of the first chefs he approached to pitch his spices. They continued to stay in touch, and in 2019 Mr. Cardoz reached out to Frisch directly to talk about producing masalas (spice mixes) based on the blends he used in his own cooking.
The masala project, Mrs. Cardoz says, was inspired by their own frustrations with using spice blends from stores. “There would be so many occasions when I would go to the Indian store and buy spice blends, and he could tell I had used a blend from the store because it would have only one tone.”
This is not an unusual problem. One of the challenges of using a store bought spice mixture is that that there isn’t a standardized recipe used across manufacturers, or even households. This is one of the reason many Indian cookbooks (and cookbooks in general) provide recipes for spice blends, and why you may not enjoy a blend like garam masala from one company, but might love it from another. And, adding another layer of complexity to the problem, while there are many companies in the spice trade that know what they’re doing, it’s common for spices of various origins to be mixed together, which can dilute flavors and serve to hide old, stale spices.
Working with Burlap & Barrel alleviated those concerns for the Cardozes. “Ethan brought the best ingredients,” Mrs. Cardoz says. “We knew we were going to get the best quality and uphold that mindset and that pride that we had.”
The three spice blends Burlap & Barrel has begun selling are personally significant because they’re reflective of the Mr. Cardoz’s history. He was born in the Indian state of Goa, which Eater reports he continued to travel to regularly, and the Goan masala—which is made from turmeric, black pepper, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and is particularly adept for mixing with coconut milk—is perhaps the most personal of the three blends currently being sold (Frisch says that more will be released next year). Similarly, Mrs. Cardoz says that the Kashmiri masala (made from kashmiri chili, coriander, ginger, fennel, cinnamon, turmeric, cinnamon leaf, black cardamom, yellow cardamom, mace, and cloves, and which performs well with yogurt) “goes back to his time as a young adult going to visit his mom in Kashmir.”
Lastly, Mr. Cardoz’s garam masala—which is made from cinnamon, star anise, bay leaf, black cardamom, yellow cardamom, mace, and cloves—is described by Mrs. Cardoz as a “beautiful, sweet blend” suitable for either baking or using to make a tadka.
Across his career Mr. Cardoz was not just a champion of Indian cuisine, but a champion of flavor. His book Flavorwalla encouraged people to embrace spices, and Mrs. Cardoz says, “Floyd was very passionate about Indian food, about spices, and he always said, ‘I will not rest until nobody is afraid to use flavor, to use spices.’”
The project is also a memorial to a chef, father, and husband. Mrs. Cardoz says, “For me, my way of honoring him is doing everything I can do to get these into as many kitchens as I can so that people know they can cook without fear. He’ll be there in everyone’s kitchen and that’s his legacy.”