by Sophie Tolias | posted on Good News Toronto
In the culinary world, they say you eat first with your eyes; hence the emphasis fine dining establishments place on food arrangement and garnish decorating.
None of that matters at O. Noir, where visitors leave not knowing what the food looked like, and in some cases, even what they ate.
O. Noir is tucked away in the basement of the Town Inn Suites at the corner of Church and Charles streets. Guests are first welcomed into a dimly lit lounge where they can enjoy a drink and place their order from
the prix fixe menu. Daring diners can put their taste buds to the test and choose the surprise option for one or all of their courses.
Once the order is taken, diners are led by a server — single file, left hand on the left shoulder of the person ahead — into the pitch-black dining room. That’s right: no candlelight, flashlights, matches, cell phones, lighters, or even luminous watches — just pure, your-eyes-will-not-adjust, darkness. Once seated, the waiter explains where everything is on the table and dinner service begins.
“It’s a sensual dining experience like no other,” founder and owner Moe Alameddine says. “When you eat food in the dark, your remaining senses are heightened to savour the smell and taste of food.”
But O. Noir does more than stimulate the senses. For a couple hours, customers experience a world without vision.
The socially conscious concept was pioneered by Jorge Spielmann, a blind pastor in Zurich who blindfolded dinner guests visiting his home so they could share his eating experience. In 1999, Jorge opened Blindekuh (German for Blind Cow), the world’s first, and much copied, restaurant in the dark to teach the sighted about the sightless world and provide jobs for blind people.
“I saw the concept [in Zurich] and I was intrigued,” Moe says.
In September 2006, after more than a decade in the fast-food industry, Moe opened Montreal’s O. Noir, Canada’s first eat-in-the-dark restaurant, which employs nine visually impaired people and donates 5 percent of its profits to local organizations for the visually impaired. In June 2009, with co-owner Ian Martinez, he brought the unique culinary experience to Toronto, employing another nine visually impaired people.
O. Noir takes pride in providing job opportunities for blind and visually impaired people, a demographic that experiences a 65% unemployment rate in Canada.
Thirty-five-year-old Diana Coscarella, visually impaired since birth, has worked at O. Noir since it opened.
“This is my first job,” she says. “I love it. I love it.”
Hired through the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the wait staff are blind or visually impaired and are guides to the sighted as much as they are servers.
“Even if you want to go out to the washroom, you have to ask them,” Moe says. “They’ll guide you out, they’ll wait for you, and then they’ll bring you back to your table.”
Of course, the washrooms are lit.
Visit www.cnib.ca to learn more about the CNIB, to volunteer, to donate, or to host a fundraising event.
Perform an everyday task wearing a blindfold. Or eat a meal blindfolded.
Experience a meal at O.Noir Restaurant