Three years ago, Chef Jason McKinney, 29, and Chef Tyler Vorce, 32, launched Truffle Shuffle to sell chefs consciously sourced and traceable fresh truffles, the black gold of the ingredients. Their goal was ultimately to open their own restaurant (both had previously worked at the three Michelin star restaurant, The French Laundry in Yountville, California). The two had just made a deal with Whole Foods to sell their produce (truffle popcorn, truffle salt, and brown sugar truffle honey) when Covid hit. Not only did the two chefs learn to pivot and start leading online cooking classes, they also won their audition for Shark aquarium and ended up landing their dream shark, Mark Cuban.
“What do you do when a global pandemic strikes and you have twenty pounds of fresh shuffles worth $ 1,000 a pound and very perishable on hand and all the restaurants you work with are closed?” said Chief Jason. “You adapt. We have decided to sell our truffles directly to the consumer and launch a live dining experience. (As seen in UKTN.com, July 30, 2020)
The chefs launched an online truffle risotto cooking class, selling kits with pre-dosed ingredients including fresh Spanish black truffles and a wooden truffle razor. The kits, which arrived a few days before class, sold out immediately. Just like 20 pounds of truffles (worth $ 20,000). They added more courses including Lobster Rolls with Truffles and Béarnaise Truffle Steak, teaching enthusiasts how to make Béarnaise Sauce steak from scratch. Then they added sweet dishes like Crêpe Suzette with fresh baked strawberries and their brown butter truffle honey. Truffle Shuffle is offering the Crêpes Suzette class on May 9e Mother’s Day, a cheap, original and fun gift for mom.
The founders of Truffle Shuffle don’t just offer experiences to turn average cooks into Michelin-starred chefs. They donate a portion of their profits to 1% For The Planet, hoping to solve the world’s problems one truffle at a time. They also employed over 50 hotel workers and donated 100,000 meals.
So how did the two not only turn lemons into lemonade, but also take a place on Tan Sharkk? I met Zoom with Chef Jason McKinney and Chef Tyler Vorce in their kitchen in Oakland, CA.
Why did you decide to try Shark aquarium?
A long time ago, when we were selling products in grocery stores, we would say to people, “Hey, someday you’re gonna see this on Shark aquarium, “and everyone was so excited. Really we wanted a world class business mentor. When the open casting call came in we booked a flight to Vegas and were one of the first to go. tail. .
We went there like we were presenting the actual show. We brought a display and made a cup of soup as a sample. We plugged in an induction burner and installed a small kitchen. About a week later, we got the call. They said, “Come back to Vegas, there you are.” They wanted us to make a video and send it out for the executive producers to watch. We wanted to make sure we got their attention, so we sent a pound of black truffle as part of our samples.
Who received this $ 1,000 truffle?
The casting team. And it was so nicely packaged with “fragile” and “perishable” scriptures all over the place that our box climbed on top of all the samples they received. We knew it would get us noticed.
So, how long since you sent the truffle have you been on the show?
Have you practiced your pitch?
Nonstop, and one of the best things was the fact that we were able to bring our supporters with us. We set up a small screen in the background, and our top 20 supporters who had done the most lessons with us were on screen via Zoom.
You were looking for 500,000 for 5% of the business. Never really explained what you wanted to do with the money?
As we were getting ready for the holiday season, we were featured in O Oprah magazine. This was our initial use of funds, we moved into a 10,000 square foot facility that we had already signed the lease for, with no idea if we were going to make the deal. Shark aquarium or not. We wanted to open two more studio kitchens because we had so much demand for classes that we were turning people away.
Did you go to the tank to work with Mark? Was he your first choice?
We thought all of the sharks would be great partners, but we really felt that what we’re doing right now with Truffle Shuffle is very similar to what Mark has been doing on Broadcast.com. They were in the middle of a new medium which for him was the Internet, and for us it was live broadcasting technologies.
So you did a Crepe Suzette demonstration, then you said, “Now sharks, it’s lunchtime, go crazy.” And you gave each of them an individual box which was a black truffle brodo tortellini?
Yeah, we also have white truffles. We asked our truffle hunting partners to literally go all over Italy to find white truffles, and this is the truffle Daymond put in his pocket.
Yes. It was hysterical. Did he return it?
He still has it. We sent him an invoice. He said on Instagram: “The check is in the mail.”
What else was in this box?
Truffle salt, truffle honey, crepe Suzette, tortellini, a white truffle and a little of our truffle popcorn.
So you sell and Kevin O’Leary said, “You talk to Chef Wonderful here. I’m one with the truffle.” To which Lori said, “You are one with the potato.” Did it relax you, or were you already on top of your game? What was going through your mind then?
One thing is we were able to stay longer at the Shark Tank in a friendlier setting than most of the attendees because they honestly enjoyed the food. They were like, “This is great. This is great.” As soon as they finished eating, they got to work. They are very funny, they are awesome. I know they can be a bit ruthless but honestly we went with so much respect for them all.
Well, you’ve definitely held on. Lori said: “This is one of the smartest changes I’ve heard of, but I don’t see what I can bring to the table. But Robert Herjavek was crazy about the experiential experience. And Mark was out. How did you get Mark back? This is unheard of.
Being in the Shark Tank is very similar to being in a high intensity gourmet kitchen while serving. A lot is going on Shark aquarium, and you have to give a direct answer to a person. We answered all of Lori’s questions first. [Jason’s wife, Sara Rundle-McKinney, co-founder of Truffle Shuffle and president of communica-tions had done her research and suggested answering Lori’s questions first]. Lori came out, but she was super awesome. Daymond came out next, then Mark said, “You’re going to need a lot of money,” and he walked out. But we were able to explain that we had ceased to be a fresh truffle company.
What was the hardest part?
They start by asking questions at the same time. And sometimes they don’t hear the answer. Robert really saved us. He was the one who saw the vision. Robert made an offer and we asked Robert if he would come in with Mark, and Mark said he would come back.
So what are you going to do with Mark as a partner? What will he do for you?
The first element we are working on concerns marketing, because 90% of success in business depends on having the right contacts. Mark has this wealth of contacts where we can actually reach out to anything.
What is your goal?
At Truffle Shuffle, we’ve created an audience that enjoys doing live cooking lessons. We want to find a way to allow other chefs to offer what we offer. So, a chef who already has a restaurant but needs an additional source of income can log into the platform, start live streaming their own lessons, and help connect even better with their brand. We love the opportunity to create opportunities for other chefs.