“A day in the life” allows you to step into the shoes of a UAE resident to experience a typical 24 hours in their work and home life
Dubai’s diners have a sophisticated palate and if you’ve ever eaten truffle in the emirate, the chances are it has passed through the hands of Massimo Vidoni.
The Italian businessman, affectionately known as “the Truffleman”, is credited with introducing the decadent ingredient to the UAE’s dinner plates, bringing the first coal-like lumps to the city’s chefs after arriving from New York 10 years ago.
Today, the founder and managing director of Italtouch, sells more than 4,000kg of them a year to restaurants including Zuma, Roberto’s, Sushi Samba, Bagatelle, Ossiano and Nobu, and recently opened a new store in Depachika food hall at Palm Jumeirah’s Nakheel Mall.
Here, The National joins the Truffleman on a typical day, juggling truffles and caviar with parenting and parties.
6.30am: Truffled eggs for breakfast
Every day, Mr Vidoni wakes up early to prepare his daughter’s breakfast and take her to school.
“If she’s lucky I will make her truffled eggs, but that’s only on special occasions,” he says. “After that, my first job of the day is scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, which is a combination of replying to truffle orders and blocking weirdos.”
The number of orders varies depending on the time of year, with truffle season falling between December and March.
“During those months I have more than 60 truffle hunters scouring farms across France, Italy and Spain sniffing out the very best truffles in the world to send to me in Dubai,” says Mr Vidonl.
“Not many people know that truffles are found by dogs that dig them from the underground, but dogs don’t look for truffles naturally, they need to be trained like police dogs.
“There are championships for truffle dogs similar to the Olympics, where they compete for trophies, cash prizes and bragging rights each truffle season.”
9am: Dealing in delicacies
Mr Vidoni heads to the office at 9am to process new orders and inspect any shipments that have arrived overnight. As well as truffles, he also supplies caviar, and makes sure he tastes every single batch.
“When I first came to Dubai in 2010, nobody wanted truffles,” he says. “I used to show up at restaurants with a bag of truffles and a set of scales asking chefs to give them a sniff.
“Selling truffles isn’t like selling candles, either. Every day they lose 2 to 3 per cent of their weight and the flavour decreases with time, too.
“In those days it was a nerve-racking business, but today the demand for truffles is massive. All day my phone rings with emergency delivery requests from restaurants that have run out of truffles.”
Every shipment that Mr Vidoni receives contains around 60kg to 100kg of truffles and he typically takes two to three loads a week.
“Last year, I sold four tonnes of truffles to Dubai’s best hotels and restaurants, including Burj Al Arab, Roberto’s, Nobu, Ossiano and Zuma. I have more than 600 clients in Dubai and my truffles are among the best 10 per cent in the world.
“My most successful day ever was this January with the opening of Atlantis The Royal. I sold 50kg of truffle worth more than Dh450,000 in one order. In Dubai, they spend $100,000 on a chandelier, no problem. Truffle is a small expense in comparison.”
1pm: Chef visits on the menu
In the afternoon, Mr Vidoni visits some of the city’s top chefs, usually in the DIFC area.
“The chefs always support me and if I have a new batch of truffle, I take a kilo with me just like I did in the early days,” he says. “Their eyes always light up and I make sure I keep 10kg aside from every shipment for my best clients.
“Sometimes I stay for lunch and, naturally, I’ll eat something with truffle, although I try not to overdo it. I’m 55 in August and I’m 20kg overweight, which goes with the territory I suppose – it’s no good putting truffle on a salad.
“I enjoy Asian or Italian food and I’m a big fan of sharing plates. At home, we mainly eat pasta or have big barbecues, to which I tactically invite chefs, so they take over the cooking.
“This works particularly well with Reif Othman and Izu Ani, whose restaurants include Gaia, carine and Alaya.”
Mr Vidoni counts Othman as one of his closest friends in Dubai and believes the chef’s truffle dishes are some of the best in the city.
“I first met Reif in 2012 when I showed up at Zuma with four kilos of black truffle from Australia,” he says.
“He was the executive chef back then and he came out of the kitchen in disbelief because truffle was out of season at the time. He paid cash for the lot and we’ve worked together ever since.”
4pm: Maintaining high standards
In the afternoon, Mr Vidoni heads to his new Italtouch store at Depachika Nakheel Mall, where he sells caviar and truffles.
“I check that everything is running smoothly and the staff know what they’re doing, and I might have a taste of some of the products while I’m there,” he says.
“My typical day usually involves truffles from start to finish and after I’ve wrapped up the day’s business, I usually head off to a restaurant opening or another industry event, before getting home in the early hours and getting ready to do it all again.”