Dining in the Dark

How was your Halloween? Scary, frightening or fun? Most of us are going to say fun, including myself, but it was also an adventure because I dined in the dark. No, that doesn’t mean that there was a power outage, or a forgotten electric bill, this was a very constructed experience lead by a good friend of mine, Kerry Ward, who is an adventure trainer.  This was not a “eating Big Macs with the lights out” kind of experience, but a posh, gourmet dining experience that was preceded by other “adventures.”

I love learning in two ways. The obvious one for me is by being told a story. The next way I like to learn is by doing it myself. Then it becomes my story. This is experiential learning, and whenever I can, I try to use this to teach others.  It might even be fun. But, sometimes you do things to expand your horizons and perceptions and get yourself out of your humdrumness. This is essential for writers and artists so they can tap that creative side that likes playfulness, where all rules go out the window.

The first part of our Halloween evening was a masked storytelling.  We were instructed to wear masks and dress in black. I preferred to remain anonymous and give myself a mask name, but most people gave their real name and told a personal story of something that frightened them and could be described as an adventure.

In the past, I have hosted ghost story sessions on Halloween, where we told our scary stories with nothing but Jack O’ lanterns lighting the room.  The stories were so spooky that they sometimes really freaked people out, but this night’s  storytelling was with the lights on and more about our experiences with adrenaline rushes, from near-drownings to being held up at gunpoint, from wild animals to black ice car slides. The scares of our lives. We were then asked to think about our future adventure.

So, that was all very nice and safe.  Myself and my 30 masked companions were now ready to sit down and have a gourmet meal brought to us, even if it was in the dark. That’s what we expected.  But like our real-life stories that is not exactly what we had signed up for. The plot thickens.

We were sent out on a bogus scavenger hunt to a hotel two blocks away. The package we received at the concierge was a bag of blindfolds. Oh! I thought to myself, I guess our dining is going to happen at this hotel. Wrong-o. We were taken back outside and blindfolded and put in a conga-line formation, with only our leader at the head of the line being fully sighted.

The adventure began as the blind lead the blind through our downtown waterfront spaces, across crosswalks, into car parks, up stairs and through lobbies.

“Slow down!” “Stairs!”Door” “Incline, going down.”

This was an exercise in communication, trust, teamwork and using your other senses that we would need later for the main event. But for now, we shuffled along, and by the honks we received from traffic, our human chain-gang of blindfolded diners made quite an unusual sight. But, hey, it’s Halloween. (Never mind that Kerry does this all year round). In any case, we arrived at our destination completely disoriented. Still blindfolded and now in a blacker darkness than outside. We were lead to our chairs to sit down at round banquet tables. Long before we got there, the smell of food was all around us and we had now built an appetite.

Unlike my expectations, where I thought that each course would be delivered as it was ready, as in traditional dining, here we were told that a three course meal with all utensils and accoutrements had already been laid out in front of us. We were allowed to eat it anyway we wanted to.

Once again, communication and teamwork was essential.

“Found a scallop at ten o’clock!”

“Beware the shot glass on the left.”

“Hurray, we’ve got ribs!” “Yippee, we’ve got chicken to the left!” “Oh joy, we’ve found chocolate on the right!” “Oh, oh, we’ve got liver.”

“I’ve got the butter, who’s found the bread?”

“I’ve got the bread and I’ll pass it clockwise, and you can follow it clockwise with the butter.”

Then there was the guess work, as in “what was that creamy stuff, next to the crunchy stuff?” It was both a collective detective experience and a primitive fumbling, yet sensual exploration. Some people admitted that they went to fingers pretty early, but I tried to stick to the knife and fork as much as I could, but the way I ate would have made my mother turn over in her grave. Thank God no one could see us in the dark.

For once the talk was completely about our experience in the moment, no polite dinner conversations. But, there was plenty of laughter and funny comments. It was to the point that I didn’t want to take the blindfold off when asked to at the end of the meal and they gradually brought the lights up.

Now this is where the dead chicken meets the road. What were we actually eating?  The chef and sous chef came out to show us the absolutely elegantly plated dishes that we had demolished like a bunch of vikings. The visual was totally lost on us, obviously, but did we guess our flavours right…

At first, I knew it was a taste I hated, and I had to go way back in my memory banks for the last time I ate it, because I have been studiously avoiding it for decades. Liver. Other than that, I actually knew surprisingly little for sure. I had no idea I had downed a quail egg with my fingers, for example, and that thing we thought was chicken… sweetbreads.  What are sweetbreads? Someone told me it was calf gonads! OMG! But I Googled it later and it is the thymus gland or pancreas of a young calf or lamb. As my vegan friends retch, I am only glad it wasn’t what my dining companion originally suggested. But there were also wonderful things like muscles in gaspacho, olive brioche, a yummy ravioli, bacon and scallops, chocolate mousse, orange ganache, as well as standards like lovely mashed potatoes, green beans and rolls with butter (served clockwise).

I think the chef really enjoyed challenging us and seeing our reactions at his reveal. Partly sadistic perhaps, but more out of curiosity I think. He really thought about textures as well as taste for us. Personally, I was amazed at how my sense of taste was not what I thought it was. We marvelled at how pretty the meal was that we had destroyed so unconsciously. We applauded him and his sous chef for the wonderful job.

So we sat with our dining table and dissected the adventure of the meal all over again, and all our crazy manoeuvers. Like when I took a scallop from a woman who was not able to eat shellfish (she had been pre-warned), and then later I thought how weird it was to negotiate that in the dark having never even seen her face, and having a scallop passed to me by hand. Rules out the window. And that was the true adventure of the evening, not how we interact with food, but how we interact with people. Isn’t that most of our adventure in life, in fact?

I love my ghost stories, but I would not have missed this scary Halloween adventure for all the scallops in the world. If you get a chance, try it!

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4 thoughts on “Dining in the Dark

  1. lornaboyle says:

    This is something I’ve always wanted to do; it sounds like a wonderful experience. I did a table topics session at a Toastmaster meeting with smells last week… I think it would be very interesting to do one with tastes. Hmmmm….

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