The democratic Truffle is on its way to Canada. The world of truffles meets at Urbani Tartuffi, a century old family business, in the little town of Spoleto, Italy.
A conversation with Vittorio Giordano, Vice President, U.S. of Urbani Truffles. We sit in the jewel box office, showroom, open kitchen/dining room, surrounded by countless truffle products. I ask questions, and some of his answers surprise me.
Sara Waxman: Why am I suddenly seeing truffles on so many restaurant menus?
Vittorio Giordano: The truffle has became a very popular item because it attracts people simply because it is so rare and the high price adds to the mystique. People are traveling much more, they go to food shows, they spend time in Italy, and online there are recipes they try to re-create. North Americans are very curious, they want to experiment, find out about different ingredients. But mainly there was the issue that you could not find truffles. Now the distribution is getting stronger and the quality is consistent. There are also a great variety of truffle products that can be used. Before, fresh truffles would be used only in a few high end restaurants, now with the different truffle products, we make ingredients without the high food costs. It’s now more democratic, more easy for the consumers.
SW: While truffles have been popular in Europe for centuries, they are a relatively new ingredient in North America. Do chefs know the way to serve them that is cost effective and also give consumers a lovely dining experience.
VG: When I moved to NY from Italy 13 years ago, over 50% of American consumers believed that a truffle was a chocolate. Our challenge is to explain to the consumer how to use the product to its best advantage. The need is for the chefs to know more, and with the promotions we are doing though chefs and distributors they become experts in how to use truffles in their cuisine. It has broken the barriers of cuisine: Asian chefs, Japanese chefs , Mexican chefs and others are incorporating truffles into their dishes and the truffle has become an international ingredient.
SW: Are Urbani Truffles distributed in Canada?
VG: In the last quarter of 2019, Eataly will be opening in Toronto, and Urbani is heavily involved. At this time in Canada, we distribute in Vancouver and Toronto through Sabrina and Fleur De Olive. We have six offices in U.S.: New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco. Different offices and different warehouses.
SW: I see you have a lovely dining room here and an open kitchen. What happens in this space.
We created the concept a few years ago, we call it a Lab because people can create and invent everything around truffle. It’s a test kitchen we are able to invite buyers as well as private consumers and we can do a class about truffles. If you want to come here and do a party, a private dinner, we will bring the chef and he will prepare a truffle dinner.
Wine collectors, groups of friends, they have a dining event in an intimate place, and privacy for the meal. All the staff will be dedicated to you. You see the chef cooking for you and also you are able to decide with the chef the menu. A meal with every course having truffles. We have a basket of truffles and you pick your own truffle, so it’s like foraging for your own truffle.
VG: It will cost not more than a good restaurant. Before you start dinner you know exactly what you are going to spend and how many courses you will have. And you decide, maybe white truffles on two dishes and black truffles on one dish.
SW: Who are the people who book private dinners, are they tourists or locals?
VG: We have a lot of celebrities and VIP customers who come. It’s cool. Some well known chefs say, “I want come and cook at your place,” and they ask us to create an event and they say, “ I want to show off, I want to cook for them.” Private dining clubs want to offer something different to members, and they can organize a dinner here with their chef, and they can pick their own truffles.
This Lab is a way for us to educate the consumers. We don’t make a deal with buyers just about price, we involve the potential customers into the root of the product so they can have an understanding. We invites chefs, and it’s completely different for them to come here, they are not distracted. We have our chef in house, and we work out the food costs and the technical part. When they see our chef making the dishes, they know how much of the product to use.
SW: This is an excellent way to introduce truffles and their uses to chefs, and also, the ordinary consumer.
Sara Waxman, OOnt, is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.