Floyd Cardoz always came up short when facing Mary Sue Milliken on Top Chef Masters, but in the end, he won the one challenge that matters. "I went into the last challenge with the least amount of money. I only had $10,000. I was thinking, 'It would be sweet if I could squeak this one in and make $110,000 for my charity [Young Scientist Cancer Research Fund at Mount Sinai Medical School].' And I did!" he tells TVGuide.com. "So that felt pretty good!"
But the chef, who's working on a Danny Meyer restaurant, insists he never picked himself for the Masters title.
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Congratulations! You said in your exit interview that you didn't pick yourself to win? Why?
Floyd Cardoz: I never picked myself to win. In life, you have to be true to yourself and do things that are important to you. Sometimes when we go into competition with the intention of purely winning, we forget who we are, so that's why I never picked myself. I always picked Traci [Des Jardins].
All three of you agreed that the critics seemed evenly split. Did you really feel that way?
Cardoz: I actually thought Mary Sue's soufflé was going to push it over the edge for her. That soufflé was really, really good. We didn't really get a chance to see what we all did, but we all did such different things in such different styles that it was really a difficult choice.
Did Mary Sue have your number since she always beat you up until then?
Cardoz: [Laughs] Well, Mary Sue's flavors and my flavors are so similar, so that's a reason why I think we were close.
What do you think secured the win for you?
Cardoz: We all had positives and negatives. For me, I had two negatives. One was that the fish was overcooked. I know that Gael Greene likes her fish almost raw. But to me, I was like, "OK, but I'm cooking for everyone else too." The second was that the rice flakes were a little tough. I was a little disappointed by that, but they were very, very positive about the broth, which I think won over the rice flakes.
How did you get stuck in traffic so badly?
Cardoz: We were given a list of places we could buy ingredients from, like butchers, fishmongers and ingredient places. They were spread all over the L.A. area. I did not know L.A. that well, so I think I chose the wrong ones. It was up to us to figure the route and which stores we want to go to first. I wanted to get oxtail because I felt [the rendang] would stand out with it. James [Oseland] didn't really want oxtail and I wanted to prove a point that oxtail is a meat that is underappreciated and could work really well. So the places I chose made us go to areas that were not very close, so I made a huge mistake. And it was raining and you know what happens to people when it rains — they forget how to drive. I kept asking the driver, "Can we go another way?" I think we had five hours to shop and cook that day and I lost two and a half hours.
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But you didn't alter anything drastically, did you?
Cardoz: No, I did not. I said I was just going to play it the way I wanted to. We just did what we had to do.
What does it mean to win with a dish inspired by your dad and for a cancer-research charity?
Cardoz: There are so many layers to this story. My son is 18 and is on his way to college. He, for the longest time, said he wanted to do engineering and medicine. I would set him up with internships with people I knew and ... my son volunteered in the lab for a month and was just changed. He wanted to do medicine even more. My dad died of cancer and whenever someone comes to me with a request for a cancer charity, I always say yes. I cannot say no, no matter what my commitments are. Being able to support this lab, which is trying to find the causes and a cure for cancer, was huge for me. If I'm able to win something for a disease that killed my father and also help me in a way with something I'm passionate about — there's nothing better.
There are three versions of the show, but still only one female winner. What's up with that?
Cardoz: I don't think there is a difference in the kitchen between a male and a female chef. I never discriminate. I always have female cooks in my kitchen. I don't really know why there hasn't been more female winners. I thought for sure this time it [would be one]. And if I had lost, I would not be upset.
What else are you up to now?
Cardoz: I'm busy designing my new restaurant. We have a kitchen design, a dining room design. We start construction next week. I'm making a trip to Japan at the end of the month. There are going to be six chefs from New York and we're going to cook for the victims of the earthquake. I'm very, very excited about that. I'm also busy with El Verano tacqueria, which is at Citi Field and we just opened one in Washington, D.C.