A 20-something’s account of how he became a leading importer of truffles and other exotic specialty foods for some of America’s most elite restaurants.
The son of an American mother and Indian father, Purkayastha grew up in Houston and Fayetteville, Arkansas. Dyslexia and neural processing delay issues made schoolwork a struggle, but when his grandfather introduced him to cooking and rock collecting, his life changed. As he cultivated his love of food, school took a back seat to his new interest in gemology and to the small business he created selling stones to his classmates. The author became “hooked on mushrooms” after his parents moved to Arkansas and his uncle taught him the basics of foraging. After tasting his first truffle-infused meal, Purkayastha enthusiastically began researching truffles. He then bought his first truffles from Italy and sold them to restaurants around Fayetteville. Business boomed, and he began attending truffle festivals and high-end food shows around the country. At 16, the author met his first business partner, a wholesaler from Italy named Ubaldo. Two years later, after a decision to delay—and then forgo—college, Purkayastha was selling Ubaldo’s truffles to celebrated restaurants all over New York City. The partnership ended, however, once he realized that his Italian partner was taking advantage of him because he was young. The author then formed a lucrative business with other partners (whom he eventually bought out) while expanding his company’s line to include foraged edibles. His work took him all over Europe, where he learned some of the “dark, shadowy, shady” truths about the food business. Gun-toting hunters and wholesalers protected truffle patches as though they were drug stashes, and buyers, including Ubaldo, routinely bought truffles from Eastern Europe and sold them as the more coveted Italian or French varieties. Complemented by recipes and a glossary of exotic food terms, the book is a unique blend of bildungsroman and foodie/truffle primer sure to appeal to a wide audience.
An informative and charming food and travel memoir.