Orange County "Dining In The Dark" Event - PART 1 of 3

But first, an introduction to those unfamiliar with the concept.

"Dark dining" has been around for almost a decade. Both Time and Newsweek had stories on it when it began to take root in Europe. Back then, an enterprising restaurateur in Zurich -- a blind minister actually -- had a lightbulb pop on over his head. The idea? To turn off the lightbulb; to immerse his customers into the pitch-black darkness as they ate.

Yes, it was gimmicky. But it was novel and new. From there the black-out spread to other restaurants in Europe and the U.S. There were variations on the theme. Some hired blind servers, some just strapped night-vision goggles on their sighted ones. Others, to abide by fire codes, didn't even bother turning off the lights. They just gave cutomers sleep masks to wear, which, from pictures I've seen, looked pretty darned silly.

Either way, dining without the aid of your eyes is supposed to heighten your other senses, especially taste and smell, which would be forced to work overtime. By the end, you come away with a trendy way to enjoy food, and a renewed sense of appreciation of your vision, which admittedly, most people take for granted.

And that's precisely the hook for this year's Dining in the Dark event, which takes the idea and employs it to a more righteous, less frivolous purpose: to promote awareness of blindness and the diseases that cause it.

The host was the Foundation Fighting Blindness, an organization who's goal is to fund research to find cures, treatment and prevention for such diseases as retinitis pigmentosa (RP), macular degeneration, and Usher Syndrome.

Last Friday's shindig marks the event's third year -- a way to bring the donors together, recognize some achievements, get a little press, and most importantly, have a little fun putting sighted people into the shoes of the visually-impaired, at least for a lighthearted hour.

The evening started in a tent at the Fairmont in Newport Beach, where ladies in cocktail dresses and men in suits sipped and munched on hors d'oeuvres. Then, promptly at 7 PM, the crowd was moved to the ballroom, which was set up like a wedding reception but roped off into sections like an archeological dig.

Black tarp covered access points into the room from the kitchen and the outside hallway. This is to hold back any light that should seep in when the space is plunged into darkness. Other doors were taped shut with the supervision of the Newport Beach Fire Marshall, who was on hand to monitor the event.



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