In just a few hours, eight local foodies will down as many oysters as physically possible in 60 seconds. The prize? More oysters.
March Madness is here, and Mignonette, the downtown oyster bar and seafood eatery, wanted in on the action. So chef/owner Danny Serfer created his own version — Mollusk Madness — during which four teams of two will fight to win a half-dozen oysters and bragging rights.
Beginning today, March 21, at 6 p.m., the four teams will be given a platter of shucked oysters, which must be eaten one by one. As in the NCAA basketball tournament, the final four will compete the next day, Tuesday, March 22, and the championship will be held the following Monday, April 4. Whichever pair devours the most oysters will advance until a winner is crowned.
Serfer says he's always been a fan of March Madness and wanted to find a way to use the concept at his restaurant.
“There’s one thing I’ve always been good at, and it’s not sports," he says. "But I take my sport-adjacent activities very seriously. This year, instead of filling out our brackets like the rest of the world, we’re making this about slurping oysters. We’re changing the game."
It's the first time Serfer has organized a competition of this kind, and he hopes to make it a tradition. "We are ready to pop our cherry," he says. "I won't be making a guest appearance, though. That would be too unfair."
Mignonette put out an open call to local writers, foodies, and basketball experts to compete. Many declined, including this writer, but eight confident contenders accepted Serfer's challenge.
The group, nicknamed the "Elite Eight," includes Miami Herald’s Adam Beasley versus Chowfather blogger Steven Scharf; Ocean Drive's Carla Torres against sports-radio host Jonathan Zaslo; former Miami New Times food critic turned Lee2Go blogger Lee Klein battling Gio Gutierrez of ChatChow; and PR maven Larry Carrino facing a wildcard contestant.
The competition has yet to begin, and lots of smack-talk among contenders has already started.
"I've always dreamed of taking on competitive eating as an actual sport," says Carla Torres, assistant editor at Ocean Drive. "You could say I've been preparing for this moment since I was 2, when I had my first oyster and fell in love."
Klein is already sizing up his fellow slurpers. "I start with Gio, so he's the one I've got to look out for first," Klein says. "After Gio, Carla is the dark horse, but that Carrino fellow is likely to try to pull a fast one."
Carla is nervous about competing against Gutierrez too but insists it's because she doesn't want to damage their friendship. But she says she worries more about Carrino's abilities. "I have a feeling Larry has a hidden talent we're all unaware of, and it involves oysters," she says.
Zaslow says he's looking out for Klein instead. "I'm wary of this Lee Klein," he says. "There was no Twitter handle listed for him, and you can't trust someone who doesn't know how to use social media. He's likely very shady."
Serfer says his bets are on Chowfather's Scharf because he went to school in New Orleans, which, according to the Mignonette owner, means he must have a great deal of oyster-eating experience.
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If you're wondering why anyone would subject oneself to eating dozens of oysters in a matter of seconds, Serfer will tell you it's simply because he "offered them the highest-quality oysters and the thrill of competition in an awesome setting. How could they say no?"
Carrino's answer is a bit different. "Serfer says he has embarrassing pictures of me," he says. "If I didn't do this, he said he'd go pubic."
Klein, though, wants to strike gold (well, technically white). "I want to put the 'oy' back in "oyster," he says. "I'm also hoping to find a pearl."