Written by: Emma Castillo
Photos by: Julia Miho Nakamura
Meet the local chef behind the LionFish SupperClub. With a handful of interesting past experiences and influences, Chef Zachary Mazi thinks outside of the box with an alternative fine dining experience and has pioneered some exceptional ideas on how a meal should be served and enjoyed.
How did LionFish SupperClub come about?
In the very beginning, I wasn’t part of it, but Tighe Melville, my partner, had always wanted to do a pop-up backyard dinner and he had a friend whose birthday party it was. He’s a graphic designer, so they created this whole graphic design concept and printed menus, threw a party and did this whole thing. That was in 2013 and I lived with Ty’s girlfriend at the time. When she found out about my interest in doing pop-ups, she told me I had to meet her boyfriend Ty. So I went and introduced myself and he was like, “Well we already have all of this branding, do you just want to go with it?” So we picked a date and by the end of the first one… [hand gestures] it was like- Woah! That felt incredible. Everybody, the whole crowd, felt good about it.
Why did you decide to create an alternative pop-up community supper experience as opposed to a traditional restaurant?
For me, I can’t stand working on the line. I’ve been in catering for 10 years. My favorite events are the small number plated events. I used to say 12-24 people (although 40 seems within that range as well). Still, 12 -24 people, plated, with a captive audience, they’re seated, and it’s my menu. For me, that’s what turns me on about the service and what really lights me up. The idea that I can set my own menu and invite people to buy tickets to my table makes me think, “Why didn’t I figure this out earlier?” I think a lot of pop-ups are a la carte, or sort of temporary restaurants and I just really want to bring that fine dining element to it. And now we have aspirations well beyond that.
Where did your interest in cooking and love for food come from?
My mom. I have memories from growing up… She had an old spice grinder and she used to buy whole spices and let us grind cumin and coriander for her. So I just grew up with it in my face, spices and smells. She cooked at home all of the time. When I got out into the world I was like, “I need to be able to make what my mom used to make!” [laughs] But I definitely surpassed her recipes pretty quickly I think.
I don’t think I ever realized there were jobs outside the service industry. For whatever reason, I just never knew to pursue a career outside of working in a grocery store, in a restaurant, as a dishwasher. That was everything I did as a kid. From Round Table Pizza to five-star restaurants in Maui… food service has just been the way it is.
What other food service experiences have you had?
I had this string of restaurants where I was the minority working, which was great. At Mama’s Fish House in Maui, it was a lot of local folk. It was a Hawaiian restaurant, the chef was Hawaiian, and it was five-star. It is where Oprah and Orlando Bloom have gone. I made food for both them – so I was told – they kept us in the back room caged up [laughs].
Then I worked for a Jewish deli in Portland, Kenny and Zukes, which is now a center point in Portland. I worked in the bakery just as they were getting started. I didn’t know much about Jewish culture or Jewish food. Again, I was a definitely a minority. That was really neat. I was making a hundred pounds of rye and sour dough bagels. It was a cool experience to see the process and what it is like to crank out 300 bagels everyday. And they’re the most delicious bagels ever!
I’ve heard that you aim for the food you prepare to be therapeutic…can you elaborate on this?
I came down as a therapeutic chef, being interested in using food to heal. Food is Medicine was actually the name of my business. I still have a Facebook page that I somewhat maintain. I think it’s important to get away from this idea that food and medicine are separate from each other, that we have food over here and medicine over there. For instance, the idea of foraging, going out and getting your food in the wild, especially mushrooms, is incredibly good for you. You can have your exercise, your food, and your medicine all in one go. That’s how we used to live, that’s where we come from as humans.
But the therapeutic side has definitely turned to the service part as well. Having elements of surprise or anticipation is clinically shown to start your digestive juices better. You get better and more thorough digestion when your mouth is waiting for the food with salvation. There is this idea of food hygiene and how to serve it in a way that crates a better synergy.
What makes a LionFish meal special and unique?
The people. The very first event we realized that it was much more than a dinner. That it was almost like a Leeds meeting because it was stimulated people around the table having turned on conversations and really phenomenal interactions. That was what the glow was at the end of that first event. We were like, wow, we just created something here, and that’s been really special.
The goal is to have people taken care of from this moment they walk in and meet the host at the host booth, cocktail in their hand and appetizers. We want them to be taken care of the whole way through, so they have nothing to worry about. Everything has been thought of in advance. The decorations are stellar, there is plenty of heat, the food is awesome, really beautiful, and there are incredible people that they haven’t met yet. And we say that it lubricates the conversation.
With your new location at the Food Lounge, how does this change things for LionFish?
It’s go time. For me personally, it’s the first time I’ve had my own kitchen in 10 years, so that’s pretty huge. It opens up access to collaboration from the other farmers and producers, and a lot more ideas. Just having room and space in an actual professional dish room makes a huge difference when you can bang out dishes in 5 minutes rather than at my home kitchen, which is either a stove or a dish rack [laughs], it’s pretty small. Pretty much all I have is clothes, kitchen equipment and books. Now all of my kitchen equipment is in my kitchen, so I have room in my house, which has been amazing!
It also gives me an office, a place to think, and a place where it’s always professional. When I’m there I may be playing or exploring, but its in the mode of creating something new for LionFish. Where as before, it’s easy to get distracted at home.
I think the location ups our visibility and gives us an address. We’re a very specific place that is building reputation that has other producers in it. It also gives us an event space, so we can do our pop-ups at The Food Lounge.
What is next for LionFish SupperClub?
The next big thing is our April 24th dinner and we are following the TEDx convention here in Santa Cruz. The theme is Radical Collaboration. We are collaborating with most of the producers in the Food Lounge to put together a dinner and then also have speakers in between the appetizers. This is what we are actually moving towards, creating what we are calling the Food For Thought series in which we have TED like talks around dinner.
Then we’re also really expanding on promoting ourselves and what kind of events we’re targeting. We’re bringing some really awesome people onto the team in the next couple weeks. It’s going to totally revolutionize everything!
Upcoming LionFish SupperClub Events:
Thursday, April 23rd: Sensual Food Event at Pure Pleasure Adult Shop
Aphrodisiac Sensory Immersion with LionFish SupperClub
Friday, April 24th: Radically Collaborative Dinner
The first installment of the Food For Thought dinner series by LionFish SupperClub: shifting the paradigm with curated discussions around the dinner table. https://www.facebook.com/events/1627699664112791/
Follow LionFish SupperClub on Instagram: @lionfishsupperclub @chefmazi
And Lionfish will be serving us at Event Santa Cruz 1973! Get your tickets here!