Randall Burns

4 years ago · 6 min. reading time · visibility ~10 ·

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"The Truffle Incident"

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   It’s 1985; I’m living in Toronto, a culinary and cosmopolitan metropolis. I’m a cook, (Chef de Partie position), at a fine dining French restaurant and I’m enjoying it, Cooking great food and constantly learning on a daily basis.

   The restaurant community, in particular the culinary community, as with any profession, has a social network; you know people and they know people and so on. (Yes believe it or not we had "networking" before there was the internet, beBee, LinkedIn, FB, etc. LOL). One of my friends was a cook at another French restaurant and we would get together for a beer after work occasionally. On this particular night I was finished before him so I walked over to his restaurant to wait for him..

   I was at the bar of the restaurant, with my first pint of "wobbly pop" in front of me, when Chef Andre approached me. This was quite out of character for him as although he knew me and that I was a friend of one of his cooks he was always quite standoffish, not very sociable, and he rarely even acknowledged me but on this night he came up to me and said, in his heavy French accent, “Good Evening Randy, how are you?" I shook his hand and told him I was fine. I noticed a little nervous energy bubbling out of him, not normal for him as he was usually very reserved. He looked me in the eye and asked me, “Have you ever had truffles before?” To which I responded yes, although my experience had been limited to canned truffles, whole and peelings, but I didn’t tell him that.

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   Well being the typical Chef that Andre was he knew, and he asked me again, already knowing how I would reply, “Yes of course, but have you ever had fresh truffles?" I looked him in the eye and had to respond, “No”, which brought a huge smile to his face.

   What is it with these Chefs? How do they know everything? (I know that ALL of you out there know exactly what I’m talking about). Yes of course he knew I’d never had fresh truffles before, was it stamped on my forehead?

   

Andre explained that he had just received some fresh truffles, black ones from Italy and would I like to try some. His excitement was contagious as was his sincerity in sharing some with me. I saw a side of Andre I’d never seen, I saw a Mentor coming out of him and he wanted to share something with me. I was very thankful and said yes, of course, I would love to try some.

For those of you familiar with truffles you know that there’s nothing like them in the world. Having only been exposed to the canned product I was in no way prepared for what was about to happen, it would not only change my outlook on truffles but my perspectives on “fresh product” and my attitude towards cooking and food in so many ways.

   Andre instructed the bartender to set my beer aside, for later. He ordered me a glass of ice wine and told me to wait a moment until he returned.

   A few minutes later Andre returned, very giddy like a schoolboy, his mood was contagious as was the anticipation starting to build in me. He set in front of me a black bowl with a couple of quenelles of fresh, house made, French Vanilla Ice Cream. You can always tell the quality of a “French Vanilla” ice cream by the vanilla seeds present throughout the cream, pure white perfectly formed quenelles, like two eggs, and the black bowl background highlighting the minute black specks of vanilla seeds generously spread throughout. My mouth was already watering but a smell reaches my nose that I’ve never smelled nor will I ever forget; a pungent, aromatic, earthy perfume that I can’t describe is invading my head. Chef Andre has a small basket in his hand with numerous large black “nodes” in it. He sets the basket on the bar and picks one up, about twice the size of a disfigured golf ball, absolutely pitch black. (I hate to say it but it was very reminiscent of reading about Don Juan and Carlos Castaneda picking Peyote buttons, the same excitement was building inside of me).Chef Andre produced a truffle slicer in his other hand; it’s a small mandolin with a very sharp “fluted” blade, and proceeded to slice paper thin slices of fresh truffle, his arm’s a blur as he’s rapidly moving the truffle back and forth over the blade, the paper thin slices rapidly piling up over my ice cream. With every slice the smell is getting more pungent, he watches me with satisfaction as my eyes roll back; overwhelmed from the smell. My senses are in overload, I have never experienced a sensory perception like I’m feeling at the moment. My intellect is speechless but other aspects of me are waking up, savoring what my nose is bringing in, anticipating what my mouth is about to bring in. My body is excited.

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    After a very generous stack of delicate shavings are laid on the ice cream Chef Andre stepped back, I tentatively picked up the silver spoon next to me and slowly lifted the first slice. The cross section of center cut truffle revealed an intricate design of light and dark veins throughout, ranging from pitch black to dark gray with lighter speckles throughout, an intricate pattern that was mesmerizing, that you could lose yourself in. it was fresh, moist and still looked alive. I slipped it in my mouth and my body reeled at the impact the flavor had on me. I am not being dramatic here; this was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever tasted. It’s not only the taste that’s difficult to describe but the whole effect on my body, the way it reacted was unimaginable. I could see the satisfaction on Andre’s face as my smile widened. I continued the next bite with 3 slivers of the “Black Gold”, (They are expensive), and a half spoon of ice cream. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better the smooth cream with the deep vanilla just set my mouth screaming. Believe it or not the flavors harmonized with each other perfectly. It was just that everything was so fresh!Truffles are usually used for more savory dishes; they can be used with fish, game, poultry, pastas, pates and terrines. Personally I enjoy sautéed sweetbreads with a truffle sauce, so having them fresh with Ice Cream was an unexpected delight. Andre reminded me of my ice wine sitting on the bar, and then walked away so I could enjoy the rest in peace. He was happy; he could see the instant change in me and knew that he had influenced me, “mentored” me; he had converted another culinarian, even in some small way.

   

The Ice Wine just added another dimension to the whole experience, I savored it for as long as I could but it was gone before I realized it. I sat content, looking at the empty bowl and glass. My mind was empty, my intellect gone, my body enjoying the moment for what it was, I almost felt "high"; actually I did feel "high". It was an incredible, revelating experience for my body and other nebulous aspects of my being, bypassing my intellect completely.

My friend finished work and joined me, we then proceeded down the street to a local "hole in the wall" that we frequented to enjoy our after work libation. Contrary to my usual gregarious self I was quiet, I didn't have much to say. I was in a great mood but my intellect had been turned off, or at least toned down. I was still savoring, enjoying, and digesting the interaction that I'd just experienced. My body and other senses were awake and didn't want to let go. I was hanging on to the blissful feelings for as long as I could, reveling in my unique state of being, enjoying every moment as it happened.

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   Although Andre was not really a Mentor of mine I had to share this story as it is an experience where I learned something profound and I’m ever grateful to Andre for being the catalyst in this lesson. Andre set up a situation, introduced me to something and then the universe took over and communicated to me directly. That incident changed my perspective in many ways, it taught me about subtlety and freshness. It opened my eyes to more possibilities that I didn’t know existed; And it fuelled my love for truffles.


   I believe that this was not a conscious action on Andre’s part; the “spirit”, "Karma", "higher powers", (whatever you want to call it), guided him and he just went along for the ride, he followed his instinct. The actual intellectual discourse between us was short and casual but his actions and presentation were directed at my senses, the whole interaction took place on an unconscious level and although it was brief it was very profound.

   The point is that even our most casual interactions, our shortest conversations can have a lot of meaning and contain a lot of knowledge. There is knowledge to be had out there, everywhere and every day. Sometimes it is structured, long term, as in working in a kitchen, or anywhere else for that matter, for years, and sometimes it’s a fleeting moment where the powers of the universe and karma align and hit us like a lightning strike, and it's not just our intellects, our minds learning, it is other aspects of our beings learning about the world around us. I’m sure that everyone has felt this at some point in their lives.

   I talk a lot about Mentoring, it is a very important aspect, a necessity in our industry, especially in the kitchen, as it is in life and while the majority of the time it is a long term situation/relationship there are the rare occasions when it is a "lightning strike". Such was the occasion here and I can still feel the impact of this fateful interaction; I will carry it with me for the rest of my life.

   I talk a lot about my experiences and my Mentors from the past in the hopes that I can pass on some of the lessons and knowledge that I've been so lucky to have received to someone else out there traversing their "path to knowledge". That's good Karma.


   Happy Cooking Everyone!


   P.S. The great photo at the beginning of this article is from "The Truffle & Wine Co." in Manjimup, Western Australia. It is a truffle farm, vineyard and winery. They hold "Truffle Hunts" there with highly trained and very friendly dogs. I think I know where I'm going for my next vacation/adventure. (photo credit; James Morgan)(www.truffleandwine.com.au )

    (LMAO!!, I just had a visual of Elmer Fudd sneaking through the forest, carrying his cartoon shotgun, whispering, "Shhhhhhh...be vewy, vewy quiet,... we's hunting twuffles...)



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Comments

Randall Burns

1 year ago #32

Thanks for the feedback Cyndi wilkins Always a pleasure to hear from you

Cyndi wilkins

1 year ago #31

Oh my!...I do have to agree with Lisa Gallagher here...This is 'food porn' at its finest...Lol! "It was fresh, moist and still looked alive. I slipped it in my mouth and my body reeled at the impact the flavor had on me. I am not being dramatic here; this was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever tasted. It’s not only the taste that’s difficult to describe but the whole effect on my body." Now that's what I call a food orgasm;-) And the afterglow... "My mind was empty, my intellect gone, my body enjoying the moment for what it was, I almost felt "high"; actually I did feel "high"... I'll have what he's having;-) LMAO!

Randall Burns

4 years ago #30

#29
Yes you do! :-) Thanks for reading and commenting Lyon Brave

Lyon Brave

4 years ago #29

I want to try a Truffle!

Randall Burns

4 years ago #28

Thanks Javier \ud83d\udc1d beBee, you have a great day as well! :-)

Javier 🐝 CR

4 years ago #27

Randall Burns this is a great buzz ! Many thanks for sharing it on beBee. Have a great day !

Dean Owen

4 years ago #26

#25
I will convert you from beans on toast! Once you taste shirako (Cod fish sperm sacks), lightly fried in a tempura batter, you'll never go back!

Paul Walters

4 years ago #25

#2
Dean Owen Ah, pass me a little more of the Akimo Dean San ... yes the monkfish liver, drizzled in reindeer dribble . Oh you foodies , to what lengths will you go ?
#20
Yes, Ken Boddie is the leader of the pack.

Randall Burns

4 years ago #23

#22
Cheers Phil Friedman!! (that'll be 2 toonies and a loonie buddy!)

Phil Friedman

4 years ago #22

#21
Truffles do that... as do your lyric vision and prose. Have a Molson on me, and send me the tab. Cheers!

Randall Burns

4 years ago #21

#18
LMAO! thanks Phil Friedman about the "poets" coming out

Randall Burns

4 years ago #20

#17
HaHa! Thank You Franci\ud83d\udc1dEugenia Hoffman 's great comment?

Randall Burns

4 years ago #19

#16
Thanks for the positive feedback Paul Walters, I appreciate it, glad you liked it

Phil Friedman

4 years ago #18

Randall, in your honor and that of my spiritual home, Taranna: A truffle's not a trifle, With an appetite to stifle. Though you never need a rifle, To hunt around for thy fill. Thanks for the neat story. And cheers!
Well, you certainly grabbed by attention. I have had truffles but I don't believe my enjoyment can compare to your delightful experience. A few lovely truffles my senses ruffled I long to savor their exquisite flavor

don kerr

4 years ago #16

Randall Burns loved this piece. Great story and thanks for sharing.

Paul Walters

4 years ago #15

Randall Burns great piece,,,, thank you

Lisa Gallagher

4 years ago #14

#11
I saw a program on TV last yr and I do know one place they grow and people are very territorial over them.. Oregon. I'm sure they grow in other States too but that show came to mind. Glad you enjoyed my comment lol.

Randall Burns

4 years ago #13

#9
Thanks Ken Boddie, HaHa! nice poem buddy!

Randall Burns

4 years ago #12

#7
Thank You Sara Jacobovici for your wonderful feedback, I appreciate it

Randall Burns

4 years ago #11

#5
Food porn Lisa \ud83d\udc1d Gallagher, LMAO!!! Thank you so much for your feedback, I can't think of a better compliment. :-) I'm in Northern Alberta, unfortunately I'm not familiar with any restaurants in the cities that you mention but I'm sure that fresh truffles will present themselves to you one day

Pascal Derrien

4 years ago #10

Kool article I am truffled now :-)

Ken Boddie

4 years ago #9

I love to mentor young engineers, Randall, but, funnily enough, never have I seen them awaken to the finer revelations of soil and rock mechanics, as you describe your senses being tingled by the delights of fresh truffles. So .... Truffles thinly sliced, May seem quite over priced, But once we've been enticed, Then we'll never be sufficed.

Sara Jacobovici

4 years ago #8

A must read! Randall Burns writes; " I talk a lot about Mentoring, it is a very important aspect, a necessity in our industry, especially in the kitchen, as it is in life and while the majority of the time it is a long term situation/relationship there are the rare occasions when it is a "lightning strike". Such was the occasion here and I can still feel the impact of this fateful interaction; I will carry it with me for the rest of my life."

Sara Jacobovici

4 years ago #7

From its title, to the Elmer Fudd soundtrack, the only way I can attempt now to describe your post Randall Burns is, holistic. And because of this, it is very hard to try to break it down. First I want to say that I often talk about our ability to imagine as so strong, that I give the example of how a fMRI can show us that when we imagine, let's say running, the parts of the brain that are activated when we are physically engaged in running, "light up". I would have loved to see a video of my brain while I was reading your post and imagining every word. When I break your post down into its components, I have to start with storytelling; your post is a great example of how strong a teaching tool good storytelling can be. Your post achieves your goal of getting the point across of how important mentoring can be and how to be a mentor. Your post is also a great example of how, although we are intellectually abled beings, our sensory system can override this higher cognitive function of ours, in a very beneficial way. There's more but I'll stop for now and just say that, on a personal note, I just added this to my list of priorities: "The Truffle & Wine Co." in Manjimup, Western Australia. It is a truffle farm, vineyard and winery. They hold "Truffle Hunts"...

Lisa Gallagher

4 years ago #6

#2
I just shared this to your hive, I thought you'd appreciate this article Dean Owen! I read your comment after I shared. The vanilla ice cream made my mouth water too. We used to make homemade ice cream and you can't beat the flavor!

Lisa Gallagher

4 years ago #5

Food porn in written format Randall Burns! I'm glad you emailed me about this or I may have missed it. beBee is growing so fast that it's easy to miss articles now. Thank you for remembering our conversation about Truffles! OMG, my mouth was watering when I read this. I definitely need to try truffles for sure. We are headed to Colorado in May and making a road trip out of it. We will be spending a few days in St. Louis and one in Louisville, Ky on our way down, do you know of any good restaurants in one of the cities I mentioned that serve great dishes with truffles? You're funny, I was literally laughing when I read your comment about Elmer Fudd!! Sometimes I get visuals when I write something too, it might be fun to post those like you did. ;-) Where are you located again?

Randall Burns

4 years ago #4

#3
Thank You Joyce \ud83d\udc1d Bowen for your great feedback, I appreciate it...
Your prose is so exquisite, I can almost taste the truffle myself. Your level of detail is so damn much fun. Thank you for this share.

Dean Owen

4 years ago #2

This is a book waiting to be written, and count me for the first edition! Vanilla ice-cream aye? Me personally, I love them shaved on a simple omelette or over sautéed spinach (no garlic). The great foods used to be caviar and foie gras and Scottish smoked salmon, but I would say now they are ikura (Hokkaido salmon eggs), ankimo (monkfish liver), and the white Alba truffle. Great article!

Kevin Pashuk

4 years ago #1

Apparently one does not trifle with truffles... Great story Randall

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