Dining is a sensory experience at several different levels. It begins when a divine aroma comes floating from the kitchen, invades your nostrils, tickles the taste-buds in there (trust me, there are taste buds in your nostrils, no matter what scientists say!) and makes the food come to life in your mind, even before you have seen it.
Then it seduces your visual senses when a plate of appetizingly decorated food is placed in front of you. The texture of the food, the consistency of the sauces, the richness of the color, and the freshness of the ingredients send your salivary glands into overdrive and you literally drool at the prospect of tasting the first morsel of something that looks and smells so obviously great. Your palette is the last in line to actually experience the taste of the food.
How would it be if you were deprived of all your senses during a meal; if you had to have your meal in total darkness; if you couldn’t see the people sitting at the tables around you; if you couldn’t see what you were eating; or if you didn’t even know what was placed in front of you? Intrigued? Turns out there are plenty of people with their interests equally piqued and for this reason, at the first given opportunity, they make their way to the Dans le Noir restaurant in Paris – a place where dinner is served in pitch black, blinding, complete darkness.
Dans le Noir is founded by Edouard de Broglie and Etienne Boisrond and co-funded by the Paul Guinot Foundation for Blind People. The staff that serves you is visually impaired. In a curious twist this is a restaurant where those with sight become temporarily sightless and depend on the visually impaired to be their eyes around the place.
Before entering the restaurant, visitors are usually given a few handy tips on dining in the dark, such as placing a finger inside your wine glass to feel the level of the wine and thereby avoid spilling any on the table or, most importantly, yourself. If you need any assistance during the meal, you use the most primitive technique to get the attention of your server – shouting out their name, which seems to echo eerily throughout the room. However, you’ll find that the servers are usually close at hand and appear promptly when called.
Although the chef at Dans le Noir has worked for several Michelin rated restaurants, a visit here is not so much about the food as it is about the experience of eating after your most basic senses have been deprived from you. However, sitting in a dark room clueless to the people around you, fumbling a little awkwardly to find the things on the table, and eating in careful movements so that the food reaches from your plate to the mouth and doesn’t fall off somewhere in the middle like, let’s say, your lap, makes for a very interesting dinner indeed.
Experiences of various people who have eaten at Dans le Noir differ radically from each other. Some find the obscurity comforting, while others are intimidated by it. Some felt it increased their sense of smell and taste, while others felt it dampened their desire for the food. However, they did agree on one thing – that a trip to Dans le Noir was worth it, for it led them to appreciate the ‘sighted’ world around them a lot better.
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