For the Fungi of It
Truffle impresario Ian Purkayastha recharges in the Berkshires
Jane Lowe and Ian Purkayastha took inspiration from Scandinavian farmhouse style for the design of their Cheshire home.
Photo by Megan Haley
Most every Friday evening, 24-year-olds Ian Purkayastha and Jane Lowe, along with their poodle, Charlie, drive from their Upper West Side Manhattan apartment to their farmhouse in Cheshire. The young couple, who have been together five years, bought the house a year and half ago.
“We go straight to the chicken coop when we get here and usually find roughly 20 eggs,” says Lowe. The five Easter Egger birds lay pastel blue-green eggs, the Salmon Faverolles lay small pink eggs, and the Ameraucana lays deep-blue ones. Lowe, who studied visual arts and anthropology at Sarah Lawrence College in New York’s Westchester County, enjoys photographing the eggs on the kitchen table. “I nerd out putting them in color order from lightest to darkest,” she says.
Purkayastha is New York City’s leading truffle importer. His company, Regalis Foods, supplies truffles, caviar, Wagyu beef, wild mushrooms, and other foraged edibles such as elderflower blossoms, Iranian saffron, and sassafras root to Michelin-starred restaurants in New York, including Per Se and Momofuku Ko. Williams-Sonoma distributes his truffle-infused olive oil, butter, and honeycomb products worldwide. Regalis Foods is projected to gross $10 million in sales this year.
Originally from rural Arkansas, Purkayastha began his career as a food-obsessed teenager with a fascination for rare ingredients. He tasted his first truffle while on vacation at age 15 (a black truffle-stuffed ravioli in a foie gras sauce). “It was really this earthy, amazing experience,” he says.
That sparked his curiosity about the exotic-foods business, and he quickly pooled his savings to buy a kilo of summer black truffles from France. He figured that whatever he didn’t cook himself, he’d sell to local chefs. That was a fateful decision, as he proved to be a natural entrepreneur, selling nearly $300,000 in truffles during his senior year in high school. He deferred college and moved to New York City to focus on his burgeoning business.
Being a food-industry prodigy specializing in the world’s most expensive ingredients drew major media attention, which led to a book deal. His memoir, Truffle Boy: My Unexpected Journey Through the Exotic Food Underground, was released by Hachette Books on February 7. Co-authored with food and travel writer Kevin West, the rags-to-riches tale chronicles Purkayastha’s coming-of-age adventures sourcing rare edibles. He encounters a truffle kingpin in Serbia, meth-head foragers in Oregon, unscrupulous businessmen and maniacal chefs in Manhattan, gypsy truffle hunters in the forests of Hungary, and he goes on a quest for “Gucci” mushrooms in the Himalayan foothills.
“Plenty of people have a knack for how to make a buck, so that’s not what really sets Ian apart,” says West. “What impresses me even more about him is what I would call his business demeanor. He has this very effective—and also very likable—way of being both 100-percent persistent and 100-percent polite. How often do you see that, especially in the food world? More typically, you see people who are committed to quality but are total assholes. And you see charming, silver-tongued hucksters who sell you garbage while telling you it smells like roses. Ian isn’t any of that.”
It was during the writing of the book that Purkayastha and Lowe became smitten with the Berkshires. West had rented a house in Hudson, New York, and they visited him there one weekend. “We had always heard nice things about the Berkshires, so we detoured on our way back to Manhattan and wound up in Great Barrington. We loved it and started scoping out different properties,” says Purkayastha. “The Berkshires reminds me of my youth with family in the Ozarks.”
They found their dream property in Cheshire. The three-bedroom farmhouse was built in 1815 by Joshua and Amy Mason, who are buried in a nearby cemetery. “We went over to see their gravestones when we first moved in, and we said, ‘Please don’t haunt us, we’re nice,’ ” says Lowe. The nine-acre property also boasts a renovated barn they rent via Airbnb to cover the mortgage, pool, horse stable, two cabins, and swimmable brook.
In the city, Purkayastha is always on the go, making deliveries and sales calls, constantly on his phone emailing and texting. He relishes his unplugged time in the Berkshires. “We often mushroom forage during the day and at night build bonfires in our fire pit,” he says. “Next summer, I plan on tilling the entire pasture to plant a fantastical garden. Let’s see what happens.”
Released February 7, this is a memoir of Ian Purkayastha, the son of an Indian immigrant father and a Texan mother who learned to forage for wild mushrooms from an uncle
in the Ozark hills.