Most teenagers find work flipping burgers. Ian Purkayastha launched a lucrative truffle-importing business before he could even drive.New Jersey smells terrific. Or at least, it smells terrific inside one corner office of one weathered warehouse in Hoboken. Here, a powerful aroma prized by gourmands is filling the air, wafting out even through the corner office’s heavy steel-plated doors. Garlic and mushrooms, acorns and sage, dirt and must — this is the powerful scent of white truffles, a product that’s hard to harvest and harder still to pay for, with current prices around $2,600 per pound. And there are dozens of white truffles here, some as big as baseballs. Tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of truffles. That, perhaps, explains the doors.
But how do you explain Ian Purkayastha? Tall and clarinet-thin with thick eyebrows and ample black hair, Purkayastha is the Texas-born, Arkansas-bred New Jersey transplant in charge of this aromatic workplace. As the head of North American sales for P.A.Q. Gubbio — a truffle producer based in Umbria, Italy — Purkayastha expected to sell more than 3.5 tons of Italian truffles and truffle products last year. That’s three times what he sold for P.A.Q. Gubbio just three years ago. But then, three years ago, Ian Purkayastha was still in high school.
Purkayastha is 19 today and already building P.A.Q. Gubbio into a key player in the U.S. market for fresh truffles, with a client base that includes 50 restaurants in New York — including the Michelin-starred Per Se — and dozens more nationwide. At an age when many kids are carrying backpacks full of books, Purkayastha spends his days ferrying an insulated cooler full of one of the most sought-after food items on the planet. More surprisingly: He’s been doing this since he was 15. So how exactly does a teenager become so important in such a selective market? Three ways: