I’m not going to lie. It was a strange sensation, to say the least. “Dining in the Dark,” while sounding mysterious and exciting from a culinary point of view, sounded intimidating and, OK I’ll say it, scary from an emotional standpoint. Second Harvest invited the community to join them May 8, 2014 for a unique evening of fine dining to support not only their efforts feeding the hungry in Central Florida, but Lighthouse, an organization that assists the blind and visually impaired in our area.
The event began with a cocktail reception in the Second Harvest warehouse. In the middle of racks piled sky-high and refrigeration cases bloated with healthy goodness to be shared, we were serenaded by Asli Goncer, a local performer, while we enjoyed passed hors d’oeuvres. During this time we got a chance to meet our servers, the Orlando Police Department SWAT Team who let the “civilians” check out their night vision headsets. Some of us tried on the apparatus, while others just checked it out from afar. As the meet and greet hour grew to a close, so too grew my apprehension.
While I’ve never been arm-in-arm escorted by an officer of the law before, in this instance it was the only way to find my way to the dining room, not to mention my chair. The officer in charge of our table asked a couple of times if I was OK. (While I could see nothing, he could see the panic on my face.) Happily, though, my friend Emily Ellyn had done “this sort of thing” before and was a comforting presence, not to mention our table’s go-to gal on determining what we were eating.
When the first course was set before us, I felt the bowl-like shape and laughed at the very real possibility that soup was on the menu. They were not as mischievous as I had envisioned, and instead presented us with a seared seafood boudin blanc (a seafood mix that is cut to resemble a scallop in shape, size, and texture). First course guess: wrong, but pretty darn close as I thought it was a scallop.
The salad was an easy guess, but I wouldn’t have picked out the pickled shaved radish (that I learned later looked so vibrant on the plate). Guessing which pitcher held water and which had iced tea was accomplished with the “whiff” test, while the wine was being passed with running commentary as to being white or red. There were, thankfully, no comments from the SWAT officers on the horribly inaccurate pour job I, nee we, did getting beverages in our glasses!
Over great conversation with my table-mates, we were then presented with the main course, a grilled lamb chop with a spring garlic and potato whip. I’m sure I wasn’t the only diner who, when presented with a big ol’ delicious bone sticking out, picked up my chop to munch happily. I learned that while there’s freedom when most everyone around you is in the same blind boat, it must be exhausting to live in that state at all times, constantly gauging your movements.
While I have intimate knowledge of what it’s like to be a hungry child in Central Florida, my experience with blindness is confined to migraines where, in my case, I go temporarily blind in one eye for as little as a few minutes, to an hour or more. My minor association with vision loss is enough to make me shudder at the reality faced by the visually impaired. More than any part of the event, that hard-hitting message touched a nerve.
One fellow guest who works at Lighthouse shared how their work helps families of young children either born blind or through trauma. Can you imagine teaching a toddler how to play pat-a-cake, or stack blocks? I, a grown woman, had a hard time finding my mouth for one evening (and it’s been in the same place for forty-some-odd years). Things we so often take for granted are absent daily to members of our community. Thankfully Lighthouse of Central Florida provides many critical services for the blind of all ages, as well as helping with job placement and training.
Second Harvest’s decision to partner with Lighthouse on Dining in the Dark was a great one, as people do tend to turn a “blind eye” to hunger. I doubt people around me even knew I was a hungry kid at the time. Adults rarely talk about it, and kids are embarrassed to share. (I remember I was!) Fortunately Second Harvest gets food in the hands of those who need it, so there are fewer kids like I was… wondering where my next meal would come from, and not even knowing who to ask for help.
I look forward to attending more Dining in the Dark Orlando events in the future. Not only was I impressed with the stellar job done by the chefs who donated their time (thanks Disney Chef team!) and the culinary students in the Darden Community Kitchen, but it was a great way to experience food in a more sense-ual way. Dining with heightened awareness to sounds, smells, temperature variations, brushes against your arm, etc., made for a memorable time.
Please keep an “ear out” for future Dining in the Dark events. Foodies and adventure-seekers alike will be happy to hear about this unusual outing that tickles your taste buds, awakens your senses, and warms your heart knowing that each ticket purchased helps bring a little more light to some dark corners right here in Central Florida.
Thanks Second Harvest for letting me originally share this as a guest post (here).