The sushi experience can be quite visual and festive, with sushi chefs working their magic, often with plenty of flair. Gino Mazziani has taken the sushi experience to the next level with his Sushi Smackdown events. These are part culinary event part party and I caught up with Gino recently to learn more.
How did this concept originate?
I was working for Bridgegate Films as VP of TV development and was on the set of a show being filmed in Las Vegas and the director and I went to a sushi restaurant for lunch. As we were talking about the industry in general, I asked the director if he had ever seen a show about sushi. Light bulbs in my head lit up and I left the set the next day. The initial concept was restaurants competing in their city for the best sushi restaurant title. It started out good but soon we realized the restaurants don’t like to be known as second best. The crowd loved the format of tasting the restaurant’s best, but we overfilled the restaurants and put too much pressure on the restaurants, which resulted in slow service. I realized we were on to something good but we had to make some changes to keep both the restaurants and our fans happy. We limited our crowd per restaurant to 48 local sushi fans per restaurant at one time. This gave the restaurants the opportunity to deliver good service and create new customers. Fans love it because they get to try the restaurant’s best 17 dishes in a social and fun environment. Sushi Smackdown is definitely not a quiet dinner for two. It is a sushi party where everyone participates in the rating of the restaurant’s best and has some fun making new friends.
How exactly does a Sushi Smackdown work, walk me through an event.
First you go to our site (sushismackdown.com). Pick your city and restaurant. Each restaurant offers multiple dates and times. Choose your date and time and reserve your event. The events normally start at 7 p.m. so we ask our fans to arrive 15 minutes early for seating. We would like to start the show right about 7:10 p.m. because it is a 2hour to 2 1/2 hour event. Since it is a social event, we put all the tables together or at least create table of eight so everyone gets to meet new friends.
We welcome the crowd and explain the event. The restaurant serves the crowd 17 of its most popular appetizers, rolls, sushi, desserts and more. Everyone has a rating sheet with what the restaurant will be serving on it. As each dish comes out, the fans taste each one and rate the dish one to five stars. In between the service, we have our famous sake bomb contests. We take four ladies for the first round, then four guys, and finally the winners go face-to-face, guys versus girls. The winner gets tickets to the next sushi smackdown. I have never seen a crowd get into a competition like they do with our sake bomb contests. It is fun and it creates a great vibe with our crowd. As we come to the end of the event, two chefs will compete for the crowds vote by making their best dish not on the menu. Once the crowd votes for the winning chef, the chefs come out to greet the crowd. Finally the fans have dessert and we say goodbye.
You have an impressive list of venues participating, can you list some of them and were they immediately receptive to the concept?
Currently in San Diego we have Sabuku, Carlsbad we have Nozomi, Escondido we have Sushi Yama, and Del Mar we have Tabu. The restaurants have all been very successful so far. After the third and fourth round with us, they normally sign up for a whole year. We started this program a couple of months ago. Ticket sales have doubled each month allowing us to add more restaurants to the program.
Is there a variety of sushi served at these, nigiri, sashimi, rolls or does it tend to be one type of presentation?
We like to see a variety of food with each restaurant. Each restaurant will serve three or four appetizers, four or five sashimi and nigiri, five or six rolls, a couple of surprise dishes not on the menu and a couple of deserts. The surprise dishes are normally two chefs competing for the crowd’s vote who is the better chef. They each create a dish and the crowd gets to vote on them.
How much are tickets and what is the best way to purchase them?
Tickets are normally $59 per person. We are running specials with daily deal sites at $35 or your fans can use the promo code PLATE to get their tickets for $32.
What events and venues do you have coming up in March and April?
In March and April we have our normal Sushi Smackdown events, usually every Monday through Thursday night. We have introduced our VIP parties and special events such as Raw Romance on Saturday afternoons from 1 to 3:30 p.m. where we feature beer and sushi tasting events, and our romantic sushi experience with our Raw Romance events. We are about to announce our big event coming up in April with one of the well-known local breweries featuring the ultimate sake bomb challenge. All of our Sake Bomb winners and our fans will be invited to this event at the brewery. It will be catered by one of our top sushi restaurants. We are expecting a crowd of over 200.
Learn more about Sushismackdown at www.sushismackdown.com