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How Trufflin Is Bringing Michelin-Quality Truffles Into Your Kitchen

"We're all about bringing truffles to the people and celebrating the hustle of our generation."

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Images Provided by Trufflin

Meet Cornelious Robinson and Liv Woudstra-Robinson, the couple behind Trufflin. The couple embodies the hustle spirit because prior to COVID-19, going door-to-door to fine dining restaurants selling their high-quality truffles, which come directly from the South of France. 

 

As a sort of “side hustle” to their restaurant truffle sales, Cornelious and Liv had already established a pretty robust online direct-to-consumer business, selling delicious truffles and truffle-infused products including Sriracha, Ranch, Honey, Salt, Oils, and more. Today the NYC-based company is leaning heavily into their online store and seeing amazing results. 

 

But how did they do it?

 

If you’re wondering how they got into the Truffle business, it’s pretty much in the couple’s DNA. Liv hails from the South of France, where her family’s got a long history with truffles (and the truffle-hunting dogs to prove it). At the same time, Cornelious spent years on the Atlanta food scene, first in the kitchen, learning French technique at a James Beard-awarded restaurant, then behind the bar at the onset of the craft cocktail revolution.

 

The pair met in NYC, where Cornelious was curating menus and training staff at the likes of The Top of The Standard’s Boom Boom Room, Saxon Parole, and the SoHo Grand Hotel. Trufflin sources its truffles from a collective of French truffle hunters and farmers, ensuring top-grade quality from season to season.

 

We recently had the opportunity to speak with Cornelious about Trufflin’s business and what’s next for the company.

 

Provided by Trufflin

ONE37pm: Tell me about Trufflin’s origin story.

 

Cornelious Robinson: We started out under a different name that was in honor of our truffle dog DeeDee, but before we stepped into our first kitchen, we realized that this was going to take a lot of hustle to flip our first kilo of truffles and we didn’t want to be just another truffle purveyor. We are young New Yorkers trying to create a better future for ourselves like everyone else in the City, and hopefully have an impact in the food industry. Trufflin was born out of this playful and hustle spirit. I worked in Michelin kitchens in Atlanta at a young age and eventually made it behind the bar during the start of the craft cocktail surge before moving to NY. Liv had the relationships in her hometown in France to bring high-quality truffles to New York chefs. We started Trufflin because we love food and thought it would be a fun side gig, but we quickly realized the potential was greater. 

 

Describe your brand building strategy in one sentence.

 

Robinson: We’re all about bringing truffles to the people and celebrating the hustle of our generation with delicious food that tastes and feels like us!

 

If you were pitching your business on Shark Tank, what would you say?

 

Robinson: We used to have fun watching Shark Tank the show and dreamed of being on it but now are happy with our growth and want to stay as independent as possible. But it would probably be along the lines of Sharks! Imagine a company that brings Michelin quality truffle products and fresh truffles into everyone’s kitchens and not just people like Mr. Wonderful. A company that believes good food and ingredients should be accessible to everyone. That didn’t exist, so we started Trufflin.

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Provided by Trufflin

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as a founder?

 

Robinson: You can’t always let your product speak for itself. Not everyone is familiar with Truffles, so there is a level of education that we love to share with people to help appreciate and experience our products to the fullest. Obstacles can turn into opportunities. The online space was always on our radar to expand into, but 95% of our business until COVID was B2B with us hustling around the city to get our products to chefs, and we didn’t have the manpower or resources to operate otherwise. That all changed when New York shut down, and we had to shift our entire business model in a matter of weeks. Life experience always comes into play when you are trying to navigate uncharted territory, so it’s best to trust yourself, have faith, and move forward.

 

What made you both jump into the truffle business?

 

Robinson: We both grew up in the countryside of our respective countries, so having an excuse to play in the dirt and extract culinary jewels was enticing, but we didn’t fully jump into the business to start. We had to dip our toe in the water first because truffles are expensive. One bad week and we would have been out of business. Liv’s is from the largest truffle producing region in Provence and has truffle dogs in the family; the dogs are family first; they just happen to be great at finding truffles. I worked in high-end restaurants and nightlife for over a decade, so we thought, why wouldn’t we bring truffles to chefs and foodies in the U.S.?

 

For the people out there that may not know this, explain to me what a “truffle dog” is and how that works?

 

Robinson: That’s a great question! Let’s reiterate that we are not talking about chocolate but truffles, the mushroom, or “tuber” to be more specific. They cannot be planted and can only be harvested a few months out of the year and need a very specific climate and soil composition in order to grow. The dog is essential because they are needed to hunt down the ripe truffles underneath the soil, thanks to their excellent sense of smell. With a trained truffle dog, they spot a ripe truffle, and they start digging, sometimes this can take hours or days before you find a patch of wild truffles in the wild. Just after they begin, we step in and gently pull the truffle from the earth. Sometimes the dog can get carried away, and scratch the truffle or worse eat the truffle if you aren’t paying attention.

 

Truffle oil, salt, and honey, we’ve seen. But tell us why you chose to do sriracha and Ranch? How is that process different?

 

Robinson: Well, it wasn’t complicated for us. Sriracha and Ranch are honestly our favorite sauces in the house, and I think that most people are on the same page. Both Ranch and Sriracha traditionally contain a layer of umami that everyone loves, so we added our favorite umami layer, truffles. The process is different because we oversee everything from A to Z with Ranch and Sriracha, we developed a recipe from scratch and produce it in the U.S., whereas our other products are imported from France.

 

Since the other products are more “classic,” it was an easier process to develop the flavor profile, we knew exactly what we wanted when sourcing the main ingredients in France, as opposed to having to create products new to the market like. We had to change the recipes many times to get it right, but in the end, it was all worth it because we are very proud of our Truffle Ranch and Sriracha, and they are actually our best sellers!

 

What are the best food pairings for your Trufflin products?

 

Robinson: Would you be mad if I said they go on everything? Any of the American staples (burgers, chicken wings, or pizza) to omakase, dover sole, or wagyu. We like to be classy, bougie, and ratchet, sometimes all at once.

 

You work with some of the best restaurants in NYC like Eleven Madison Park, Waverly Inn, how did you make those connections to those chefs?

 

Robinson: I would love to say it was easy, but it took a year or two of building relationships and displaying our best truffles to make inroads. We simply knocked on the doors, introduced ourselves, and of course, showed the product. If the right chef - the one in charge of purchasing - sees our product, we are usually almost sure to make a sale because, and this is how we got in business: with outstanding quality. But the most difficult is to simply show up at the right time in the right place. Restaurants have so many gatekeepers, and sometimes it takes months to meet with the decision-maker in the kitchen, this is actually what happened with Eleven Madison Park, but in the end, we were able to build a relationship by being consistent. 

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