NEW YORK—It looked like a very modest feast as Kennedy Fana, freshman at Food and Finance High School (FFHS) in Midtown Manhattan, nibbled on plain pasta and scrambled eggs out of a tiny cup. But what was that potent smell filling the room?
Actually, it may have been the feast of her life—the dish was sprinkled with fragrant pieces of an $8,000 white Italian truffle. The 11-ounce earthnut was donated to her school by Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, and eaten on Nov. 19 by almost 500 students, teachers, and guests in the school’s kitchen.
White truffles come mostly from northern Italy and are priced at around $7,000 per pound. Every fall, The World White Truffle Auction is held in Alba, Italy. Money from the auction goes to a charity and the best truffle is donated to an important public figure.
People like Ronald Reagan and Marilyn Monroe received ones in the past. This year it was given to de Blasio.
But to give a present to a public official is not so easy. “I thought … I just take the bus and knock on his office and give it to him,” said Francine Segan, food historian entrusted with the task by the Alba officials. But then she hit a wall. “Apparently, you can’t do that,” she said, as public officials are not allowed to accept gifts over $50.
Struggling with time, as truffles keep their best condition only for about two weeks, de Blasio decided to donate it to the school.
On Thursday, Nov. 14, Roger Turgeon, principal of FFHS, received a phone call from the de Blasio’s chief of staff. “She asked me if I would be interested in receiving [the truffle].” He was speechless. “After a long pause, I said ‘Yes. Of course.’”
Turgeon wanted everyone in the school to get a bite: “It’s very, very unusual food … most of my kids would probably never have the opportunity to taste,” he said.
But he had never cooked with a white truffle before. So he decided to invite chefs from restaurants that serve truffles, to show the students how to prepare it.
In the meantime Segan contacted Giovani Colavita, CEO of a Colavita USA, an importer of Italian delicacies, and asked him to donate pasta and olive oil. Colavita not only did so, but had a special first-cold-pressed virgin olive oil flown in just for the occasion.
Jonathan Benno, chef at Lincoln Ristorante on the Upper West Side, took on the role of cleaning and shaving the truffle. He praised it for its exceptional quality and size. But he was also satisfied with the students’ response. “They have a tremendous program here,” he said.
Turgeon said he specially picked the students who wanted to become chefs to help with the event.
Kennedy Fana is one of them. Cooking is her passion, but she never had a truffle before and acknowledged it’s like nothing she had ever tasted before. “I don’t like how it smells, but it tastes good,” she said.
Before long, the truffle was shaved, sliced, and eaten. There was a rumor among the students, that de Blasio would come himself, but he did not, sending only his representatives.
“This was an extraordinary gift that’s helped a truly worthy cause. I’m thrilled we could share it with the next generation of great New York chefs,” said de Blasio in an email response through his spokesman, only seeing a picture of the gift.