2. Admitting that honesty is the best policy. Except when it comes to beer. While his high school friends were playing football or sacking groceries, Purkayastha was tirelessly researching and selling truffles. “It was hard in high school,” Purkayastha says. “I was really interested in food, but none of my peers were as interested as I was. It seemed like the only thing I could talk about was truffles. After a while, it got on their nerves. I didn’t feel like my peers ever wanted to hear the word truffle again.”
You know who does want to hear about truffles? A guy whose family has been buying and selling them for generations. A guy like Emanuele Musini, the head of family-owned P.A.Q. Gubbio. Musini met Purkayastha at a food trade show held in New York the summer between Purkayastha’s junior and senior years. Purkayastha asked his father to take him to the show while they were touring colleges in the Northeast. He made an immediate impact. “Ian knew more about truffles than any Italian I had ever met,” Musini says from his family estate in Umbria.
But there was one piece of knowledge Purkayastha kept from Musini at that meeting: his age. So when Musini invited 17-year-old Purkayastha out for a beer, what was the teenager to do?
“I ordered a ginger beer,” he says. “I was hoping this European guy wouldn’t know that ginger beer was nonalcoholic.”
The ruse worked. But when Musini offered Purkayastha a chance to sell 20 pounds of his truffles a week on a commission basis, Purkayastha’s father, Abhijeet, insisted that his son disclose his age.
“I was shocked,” Musini says. Still, his offer stood. And suddenly, Purkayastha, then a high school senior, was selling 10 times more truffles per week than he’d sold before. “I’d be texting in the back of the class to different customers,” he remembers. “I’d make phone calls during lunch. After school, on the way home, I’d pick up truffles at the airport. And I set up a little distribution center in my parents’ garage.”