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Dining In The Dark

Dining in the Dark

A Culinary Lesson for Tapping into Your Senses and Increasing Your Creative Thinking

Enrich Your Experiences Using Your Senses

The senses are a powerful mental receptor. The more senses that a new experience or knowledge engages, the more memorable it is, and the richer the experience. In writing classes, the professors always encourage students to write, not only what the characters see and hear, but also what they feel, smell, and taste. By involving other senses, the scene becomes richer and paints a picture in the reader’s mind. Similarly, teachers are encouraged to involve at least three senses in a lesson to help make the information stick with the learners.

It is also a fact that a person’s creative thinking ability improves exponentially the more they learn to tap into and stimulate as many senses as possible. (See my book, Conditioning Your Mind to Fuel Creativity, for more information and activities to stimulate your senses.)

It is often said that if you remove one sense then the others become more heightened. I do not know the scientific validity of this statement, so I cannot validate it. I can tell you how one of my recent experiences helped awaken all my senses, helped me see what I could not, and activated my creative thinking to enrich my experience.

Innovative Way to Interact with Food

On a recent trip to Las Vegas, I had the wonderful opportunity to eat at BLACKOUT Dining in the Dark, an innovative way to dine that changes the way you interact with food.

Often, I get caught up in my day-to-day tasks and eating becomes a necessity instead of an experience. I shovel the food into my mouth barely tasting the main ingredient let alone the seasoning and spices. The Blackout dining experience forces you to slow down and taste the complexities of the myriad ingredients that make up each of the seven courses.

Here’s how BLACKOUT Dining in the Dark works: It is a set menu that remains a mystery until the end of the evening. Each dining experience lasts approximately 1 to 1 ½ hours. When you arrive, you are shown a drink menu, which is the only option you have. Before being seated, all purses, phones, and watches that emit light are put in a locker. When it is time to be seated, a server comes to the lobby to seat you. You step into a transition room that is lit with a red light. The server arranges your party into a conga line, each person holding the shoulders of the person in front of them. Then you are guided to your table and seated in the chair.

Using Touch to Paint a Mental Picture

The server then explains where the items on the table are located. I immediately started lightly moving my fingers across the table to orient myself. I started along the edge of the table and gradually moved toward the center as I moved my fingers back and forth. When I reached an item, my fork, for example, I traced the shape of the item to identify it. This helped me create an image in my mind of what the table looked like and where everything was located. This mental image helped me to retrieve utensils and my drinks without dropping or spilling.

The food was served on uniquely shaped plates and bowls that added to the experience. For example, one appetizer plate was shaped like a tic-tac-toe grid. The server recommended starting at the top center block and moving around clockwise, dipping each appetizer into the sauce located at the top left. This made the food easier to locate, but it also gave me a mental image where to find the food and sauce. In addition, the experience is deeply embedded in my mind. I clearly recall the feeling of running my fingertips along the gridded plate to find my food and the textures I encountered. If I was served that dish in the light, the plate and the textures would not be memorable. I most likely would not have noticed. The images created in my mind are more powerful than any memory I would have if I could see.

Relax and Let Go of Sight

Before your food arrives and after the server leaves to get your drinks, the darkness presses in a little. I wasn’t the only one that felt this. Your brain tries to make sense of the complete darkness. If you allow your brain to continue, you start straining your eyes to see. You may start to feel a bit anxious and confused. I found the best thing to do is to take several deep breathes and relax. Try to stop your brain from forcing sight. Closing your eyes may help.

This lesson also applies when you are trying to come up with a solution to a problem. It may be thinking of a topic for your next blog post, or how to increase productivity. Whatever the problem, focusing too hard at the beginning makes it more difficult to engage your creative mind and anxiety to come up with a solution presses in. When this happens, let go of your sight; breath deep; let your mind float; allow yourself to mentally see the problem from a new perspective.  

Hear What Others Look Like

Before attending the restaurant, I made some assumptions. I thought it would be very quiet. I assumed people would talk softer not knowing who else is dining or how close they are. I also thought there would be a correlation of how people tend to talk quieter at night than during the day. This was not the case.

People seemed to talk louder. I say “seemed” because the volume may not have been louder. I may have simply been more attuned to the noises around me. During our normal daily routines, we block out a lot of the background stimuli, so we are not overwhelmed. When your sight is removed, you do not have that stimuli, so the sounds are more prominent. This may be part of the “heightened senses” I mentioned in the beginning, or it may not be. It could also be that people were talking louder because they did not know the distance of the rest of their party.

What I do know is that I heard a lot more details like glasses clinking and silverware falling than I normally do in a restaurant. I also found myself imagining what the other customers looked like. My mind created a layout of the room and the other people by the direction of the sounds and the voices.

Smelling and Tasting the Menu

Finally, since I did not know what I was eating, I would first smell my food and attempt to guess what it was, before I tasted it. I did this for every bite, not just the first of each dish. I thought guessing the food would be easy, but it was surprisingly difficult. With each bite, I would taste so many flavors that I had difficulty determining what the overall dish was.

One dish I knew was a tomato salad, but I was amazed at all the flavorful ingredients I could pick out. Normally, it is only the tomatoes, onions, and vinaigrette that I taste. In this salad, I bit into a piece of celery that caught me by surprise, and I have never experienced the taste of celery in that way. Usually, I think of celery as a background ingredient. It adds and enhances flavors of the overall dish but doesn’t stand out on its own. In this tomato salad, it was a star of its own. It had a slightly sharp, bitter taste at first, but quickly mellowed and created a freshness to the dish. When it was paired with the parsley, it reminded me of a summer garden in the height of greenness and blooms.

Activate Creative Thinking

BLACKOUT Dining in the Dark was a unique experience that will stay in my memory for a long time. Because my sight was taken out of the equation, my other senses engaged with food in a new way, creating vivid images in my mind. Though I could not see the room or other diners, I have a vivid picture in my mind of them.

Developing your creative thinking ability starts with:

  • Trying new things
  • Building a set of experiences to call upon
  • Stretching your senses to new direction

If you have the opportunity, eating in the dark is an experience that will do all three of those things for you.

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