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Upma Gains The Upper Hand

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Upma - the Indian polenta

Floyd Cardoz, the erstwhile owner of Tabla, a high-end eatery in New York made it to the finals of the “Top Chef Masters” contest held at Los Angeles on 15 June and won! The humble South Indian breakfast dish cooked with a twist managed to captivate the judges and helped him edge past his rivals, Tracy Des Jardins from San Francisco and the local contender and the public favorite Mary Sue Milliken.


Cardoz dug deep into his Indian roots as he whipped up an exotic version of modest South Indian breakfast dish - the upma. He gave this everyday food a Cardozian twist to make it into a semolina delicacy peppered liberally with mushrooms. It was not quite the humble dish from South India but it did the trick and catapulted Cardoz into the top position. Egged on by childhood memories, steeped in nostalgia Cardoz outshone his competitors. The judges were simply bowled over by the simplicity of the reinvented version. It bore the same passion and creativity of the dishes served at Tabla.


Floyd Cardoz, the Mumbai based chef hadn’t always been a winner though. In fact, he didn’t get the approval of his family when he conveyed his wishes to become a chef. He, however, managed to be enrolled in a local hotel management school at Mumbai and augmented his skills by completing an advanced culinary course at Switzerland.


He co-founded the Tabla with Danny Meyer, which came as a pleasant surprise to the New Yorkers. Indian food wasn’t spicy and hot any more. The restaurant closed down after 13 long years bowing out to competition and the effects of recession that hit the Americans hard.


Cardoz was not expecting such a spectacular win himself particularly as he was beaten by Milliken who rushed back to the kitchen ahead of him with the ingredients safely tucked into her shopping basket. The chef of Indian origin had a terrible time initially as he found himself being trapped in a traffic snarl.


However, upma saved the day for him and impressed the judges too. James Oseland, one of the judges remarked that the dish was both memorable and highlighted the skill that went into the preparation.


The prize money of $100,000 will now go to the “Young Scientist Cancer Research Fund” in memory of his late father who had succumbed to cancer. The outcome was surprising even for the winner, Floyd Cardoz, who is determined to open an eatery serving seafood Grill at Battery Park soon.


Meanwhile the Los Angeles crowd is happy to try out the upma polenta, a dish inspired by the traditional uppindi, uppittu, or uppuma. “What’s in a name,” said the bard which is a sentiment echoed by the food critics and judges of ‘Top Chef Masters’ who found the Indian polenta to be as wholesome and flavorful as the original dish.


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Upma Gains The Upper Hand