The pandemic has ushered in countless courses and tutorials that can be carried out remotely with a halfway decent Wi-Fi connection. For wannabe chefs stuck at home, this bizarre stretch of time has actually proven to be a golden era of sorts, at least in terms of cooking show options.
Of the many out there, Truffle Shuffle is arguably the most unique and compelling. What began as a truffle shipment in danger of going bad just as lockdown began has swollen into a program that’s received nods from the likes of Oprah. It has a loyal and growing audience — some 12,000 Instagram followers and 2,800 followers on Facebook — drawn to a caliber of cuisine often deemed out of reach for many. For many men stuck at home hoping to sharpen their culinary skills, the show has offered the ideal kind of guidance.
Sarah and Jason McKinney were importing truffles, an ingredient they fell in love with after years working and training in top restaurants. When a fresh 20-pound load of Perigord truffles arrived last March, the timing was not ideal. The shutdown pulled the plug on just about everything, including the restaurants and retailers that bought truffles. “We had to quickly come up with a plan to sell the truffles before they were inedible and our company [was] essentially out of business,” says Sarah McKinney.
The clock was ticking, as truffles begin to lose their aroma after just seven days. So, the duo dreamt up a plan to broadcast their shared culinary experience and introduce the world to a misunderstood ingredient. Truffle Shuffle was born, built around a weekly interactive cooking program.
The truffles were saved (and continue arriving in San Francisco) and the McKinney’s are enjoying a fair deal of buzz these days. Much of that success is owed to not just inspired recipe ideas, but a singular ingredient and an approach informed by one of the best restaurants on the planet.
Truffles are among the most prized ingredients in all of food. Like the inherently classy caviar or Grand Crus Bordeaux, the ultra-flavorful fungi are expensive and generally viewed as the stuff of the most elite. Truffle Shuffle is essentially out to remove the gates from the gated community truffles seem to occupy.
“The entire founding principle behind Truffle Shuffle was making luxury ingredients more approachable and not intimidating for home chefs,” McKinney says. “There really couldn’t be anything easier than shaving truffles over a pasta dish.”
The concept of approachable luxury extends beyond ingredients like truffles or saffron. All 12 Truffle Shuffle staff either worked at The French Laundry or trained at other Three Michelin Starred restaurants. Cooking show attendees are coached through making dishes that would grace the menu of the world’s best restaurants. The Sunday menu changes weekly, a nod to the French Laundry’s habit of changing its menu every seating. Better, you get the professionalism and culinary creativity of a top restaurant without any stuffiness. The shows tend to be light and informative, despite the high-end cuisine. It’s a glass-in-hand affair, more Julia Child than Thomas Keller.
Lately, the luxury angle has even involved celebrity cameos. A recent show allowed participants to prepare paella with Wu-Tang Clan members Raekwon and Method Man. It’s an intriguing addition to the digital landscape we’re so entrenched in, especially during the pandemic.
And, even as the pandemic slows and we dine at restaurants again, Truffle Shuffle will likely still thrive in its specific niche. People want to be able to try their hand at making white table cloth meals on their own, whether or not Per Se is open for business.
Assembling a memorable meal can be a daunting task. It’s one thing to have all the tools and edibles you need, but what about putting it all together? Unlike a lot of other mail-order dinner plans, this one sticks with you until the final dish is plated, through thick and thin.
McKinney calls Truffle Shuffle the Peloton of cooking. “We ship all ingredients for that specific dish pre-measured to guests before the class, cook along with them live via zoom, and are able to interact and spotlight guests throughout the class,” she says. Now, arguably more than ever, people want to try something new — and doable — and share it with others. Cooking, especially in this kind of come-one-come-all environment, is ideal, as it’s both hands-on and inherently social. “I find that this is the perfect date-night, family-night, and really just an excuse to cut loose and be silly while creating a truly impressive meal,” McKinney says.
Plus, for men who have long lacked adequate training in the culinary arts, it’s the perfect wingman. She says viewers are looking up to Truffle Shuffle chefs Jason and Tyler like they looked up to colossal culinary figures like Emeril Lagasse or Jacques Pépin. Quarantine-mode viewers are stepping out of their comfort zones, pasta roller in hand, and taking on a new skillset that can earn all kinds of extra points with your partner or significant other. Who wouldn’t want to try something that’s good enough to show up on the French Laundry menu that you made?
“Ladies love men who cook; trust me, I am married to a chef,” McKinney says.
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