Wanna get a bachelorette party really kicking? Sure you do. Here's what you do: Strategically arrange 30 sushi rolls and 60 sashimi pieces atop a naked, and oh so hunky, male model. Serve with copious amounts of alcohol and enjoy.
A year ago, Chef Mark Scharaga catered one such private party at an undisclosed location on the Battery, his first and only foray into the Holy City in the eight years he's been running the Nyotaimori Experience. The Battery gig ended up being one of his more rambunctious engagements to date.
"Women get a little rowdier about it than men, and our model was a little shy," the Wilmington, N.C.-based Scharaga says. "It's not a sexual thing. It's an art form,"
Let's back up. This whole nude food business — it's called nyotaimori or "body sushi" — is fairly common, and while caterers and restaurants offer the service in big cities such as Las Vegas and New York, in South Carolina it's a rarity.
Scharaga started making sushi in 1992, but he didn't try his hand at nyotaimori until 2004 when a friend requested the service for a birthday party. In fact, he hadn't even heard of the time-honored practice at the time.
"Next thing you know, you start seeing it in movies," Scharaga says.
Today, that one-time engagement has turned into a catering business that has taken him around the Southeast. He usually calls around to photographers in his destination city to link up with a model for something a little, well, different.
And believe you me, Scharaga takes this stuff seriously. While it's not his full-time job (he runs a sushi restaurant in Wilmington called Tamashii), he's been at it long enough to consider himself an expert. He contends that when properly handled and prepared, nyotaimori offers an indulgent yet safe way to enjoy sushi, regardless of whatever its germophobic detractors say. More importantly, Scharaga says that the sushi normally doesn't come in contact with bare skin. Instead, Scharaga says guests pluck nigiri and sashimi off of bamboo leaves. That said, some folks do opt for a skin-on-food experience, but he says that requires a few extra precautions, like hepatitis screenings for the models and baths in fragrant, chemical-free soap, followed by an ice-water spray just minutes before dinner time.
S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control spokesman Jim Beasley says that although nyotaimori may be an ancient art, it has never been permitted in South Carolina. "In fact, no organization has come to DHEC requesting to be permitted for this type of food service operation," he says. "We believe it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to monitor and protect the health of the models and the patrons."
Scharaga said he caters private events everywhere from upscale nightclubs to Southern mansions. A party in Charleston would cost somewhere between $35 to $55 per guest, he says, but it comes with a set of ground rules, i.e. nobody can get all touchy-feely with the models. "If anything gets out of hand, we immediately pack up and go," he says. To date, Scharaga hasn't had to shut down an event.
Asked if the models and diners interact — and how that goes down, exactly — Scharaga says he defers to his guests' preference but makes a strong suggestion. "I'd like the models to remain quiet," he says. "Because if talking leads to bantering and giggling back and forth, then the sushi can fall."
And hey, if you wanted conversation, you should have hired a stripper.