Dining in the Dark: Blind Cafe Illuminates Taste Buds and Mind for Charity

Dining in the dark.
The decor of the waiting room of this particular pop-up cafe in San Francisco is eclectic. There frames are crooked, there are bronze angels hanging from the chandelier, and the furniture is random, almost bohemian. But it won't be relevant for the next two hours. The lights flicker and dim at low, almost non-visible levels, acting as a precursor of what is to come at the Blind Cafe.

Brian "Rosh" Rocheleau, founder and creator of the nonprofit organization, then comes out to the waiting room and rings a Tibetan gong, announcing that seating will begin and gives instructions on what is going to happen for the next two hours: dinner in complete darkness.

This blind dining experience comes to San Francisco to promote a better understanding of blindness. The Boulder-based arts nonprofit maintains that being immersed in the dark aids people in understanding the plight and challenges of people who are blind but also to build better relationships between people on an equal basis by removing visual markers and distractions.

"The darkness levels everyone to an equal basis and creates a space and moment where there isn't any visible differences," Rocheleau says. "What we are doing in the darkness is interrupting people's thinking, habitual behaviors, and patterns. And what that does is jar people from the regular reality that becomes automatic and accustomed to sight making the senses feel more awake and heightens anxiety and reactions."

The two-hour dining experience consists of a live Q&A with the blind waitstaff and an active listening session with live music. Because of limitations imposed by dining in the dark, Chef Jaime Harrington from The Chefler created a five course taster's menu that is vegetarian (gluten-free and vegan-friendly, too) and already placed on the tables when guest begin to wobble into the dark space.

The dinner consist of a cucumber gazpacho shot, pesto cherry tomatoes in a romaine cup, Scotch oranchini with yellow coconut curry, sweet 'n' spicy peanut tofu, and a mushroom bundle in a spicy ragout sauce. For dessert, guests are treated with cheesecake stuffed strawberries and dark chocolate peanut butter cups.

Tickets are sold on a sliding scale starting from $85-$150, with up to 90 tickets available per weekend. Student rates are also available. The proceeds from this venture in San Francisco will be donated to Accessible Science, a nonprofit that advocates for accessible methods in the Science lab for blind students and also The California Association of Blind Students.

Since its founding in 2010, the Blind Cafe has led 33 weekend events. There are other branches in Seattle, Portland, Austin, and Boulder. This weekend will mark the last scheduled event but Rocheleau says that more will be planned for next year since he is establishing the San Francisco branch of his non-profit.

Ultimately, the dining experience is meant to go beyond a simple foodie experience or fad. Rocheleau says that the mission of The Blind Cafe is deeper.

"Blind Cafes should be about positive things and people feeling empowered about blindness," he says. "We have been able to create this positive awareness not just among those who can see but those in the blind community as well. It's a two way street here and bringing communities and people together is always at the center of our mission."

The Blind Cafe
When: Nov. 8-10, 2013. 6:30-10 p.m.
Where: The Center SF, 548 Fillmore St.
Cost: $85-$150; tickets available through Brown Paper Tickets

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