Inspired by the restaurant O.Noir, where one can dine in complete darkness while being waited on by blind servers, I decided to have a party thrown completely in the dark (rightly named Dark Party) about 5 or 6 years ago when I was living in Montreal. Eating is such a sensory experience, and all too often our response to food is overly influenced by sight. Well, this party was meant to challenge that.
I had such an intriguing and giddy experience at O.Noir. When entering the restaurant’s dimly lit lobby, my friends and I ordered our meals, paid in advance and left our bags in a locker. Once our table was ready, our blind server led us into the pitch black dining area. My party and I instantly felt uncomfortable with walking for the fear of falling or hurting ourselves, but had complete faith in our server to lead us to our table. Once seated, we relaxed and had loads of fun. Unable to use our eyes, we automatically just kept them closed and let our other senses take control. We marveled about how interesting it was to watch our sense of smell, taste and touch fill in the space to take over for our lack of sight. I ate with my fingers (by choice) because I felt the need to inspect everything. Also, it was fun trying to identify the ingredients.
Since I’m such an experience junkie, I just had to try this in my own home.
Step 1: The Space
To begin, decide which areas you’d like your guests to have access to and make the rest of your living space off limits for the evening. Remove fragile or sharp obstacles out of the way; anything that is difficult to maneuver around would be best removed.
Get to know your dining area well: Count the steps of the paths you will need to take ahead of time.
Use blankets, heavy cloth or black garbage bags to cover windows, plug cracks around doors to remove as much light from your dining space as possible. Test it out ahead of time. If you can see your hand in front of your face, then it isn’t dark enough. To get the full effect, it would be best if the space were pitch black.
Plan to have a candle or flashlight in your prep area so you can assemble individual plates or platters and one in your bathroom, but make sure the light can’t be seen from the dining area. If you cook all the food yourself, do what you can to have everything prepared, divided and easily distributable before your guests arrive. If you decide to have a potlatch, you’ll be thankful for a small light to help you with assembling as your guests (and the food) arrive.
Inform your guests that they have a time frame of 20 minutes or so to make it to the party. After that, the doors will be closed. Once the lights turn off, they need to stay off. Prepare for any situation you can think of so you don’t have to turn on the lights, therefore enabling the full effect.
Step 2: The Food
Find out what foods your guests are allergic to and/or despise and make sure they aren’t on the menu. Map out how many courses you will have and how/when they will be served. Try to have an assortment of flavors and textures to keep your guests guessing and excited. Make sure there are plenty of napkins available, because messy it will get. When collecting plates (recommended between courses) be clear with your guests on whether or not they should keep their silverware.
Prepare an individual portion for each of your guests. For those choosing to have a potlatch, be specific with what dish your guests should bring and how many portions.
One mistake I made that I feel is important to note is: don’t forget that your guests can’t see. They have no idea of what is going on, so when you serve your courses, be sure to be extremely clear with what is going on. This will include a lot of talking and explaining on your part.
Examples: “Pass your plates and spoons to the left, but leave your fork.” “This plate can be passed to Bob.” “Take one item from this plate and pass it on.”
This clarity was slightly lacking at my Dark Party and created a bit of chaos. My first course was an appetizer that everyone was supposed to take from a plate and pass around. When it came time for the main, guests were to have their own plate but I forgot to explain that well enough. As the main plates were being passed, everyone thought they were supposed to take one thing from that plate. So my guests all ended up with bits of food and no plates. Woops! It was still fun.
Food I recommend avoiding: Soup, rice, sticky, syrupy, greasy stuff. You’ll be cleaning for days. No one wants that.
Food I recommend preparing: wraps, sushi or maki rolls, whole pieces of meat (steak, chicken breast), finger foods and food pockets (samosas, empanadas, pasties, pie pockets, burritos, etc…).
There are many ways to make a Dark Party a memorable night. You’ll probably always look back on it as a night you challenged your senses, bumped into things, made a mess and snuck in some naughty behavior because no one could see you. Ahem.
Step 3: Rice Paper Wraps Recipe
Here are some nice, tidy rice paper wraps that I served for my Dark Party.
Rice Paper Wraps
Spring roll rice paper wraps
Rice noodle vermicelli (cooked and drained)
One small carrot (julienned)
Squash (summer or winter, previously cooked and julienned)
A protein (shrimp, tuna or chicken would work best)
Tamari or spicy peanut sauce or any dips or sauces you like, really
Prepare all of the fillings BEFORE you wet the wraps.
Once you have everything you want to put in the wrap prepared, take a large bowl and fill it with warm water. Take one (or two for a stronger wrap) and dip it in the water ensuring all parts get wet. TIP: The wrap will continue to soften after you take it out of the water, so take it out while it is still stiff. If you leave it in too long, the strength of the wrap will be compromised and it will most likely fall apart.
Place the wrap on a plate. In the center, put the ingredients of your choice in small rows. Do not overfill.
Carefully pull up the sides of the rice paper and fold inward.
Then pull the back over.
Tuck any flyaway ingredients back in the center and roll the whole thing towards the front completing the wrap.
Dip in your favorite sauce and eat