Dining experience – with bit of a difference

Retina SA and PE Host Lions put together a sensory treat, to be enjoyed in the dark

Gail Cillie, left, and Kat Flanagan from Retina SA give ‘blindfolded’ PE Host Lions president Mark Bradley a taste of what to expect on Saturday September 7
Gail Cillie, left, and Kat Flanagan from Retina SA give ‘blindfolded’ PE Host Lions president Mark Bradley a taste of what to expect on Saturday September 7
Image: Werner Hills

Port Elizabeth will get a chance to experience the heightened sensory experience of Dining in the Dark on Saturday September 7 in an unusual “blind tasting”.

Retina SA and PE Host Lions club will present a six-course tapas-style themed meal at Algoa Toyota in Lorraine to guests who will be asked to wear glasses that mimic a range of visual impairments.

But, although guests may be deprived of most of their sight, they will be able to indulge their other senses by tasting, smelling and touching the delicacies dreamt up by Bay chef Pierre Burman.

Retina SA provincial manager Gail Cillie said this was the third time the dinner had been held in the city to raise funds for the organisation dedicated to finding treatments for degenerative eye conditions.

“We want to highlight the challenges faced by an individual when vision is lost,” Cillie said. “Under simulation the guests are asked to walk in the shoes of a person with impaired vision and to perform tasks that everyone is faced with on a daily basis such as recognise faces or people, hold a conversation, find your seat, read a menu, recognise food on a plate and so on.”

Eating in total darkness can be a deeply disconcerting experience, as Retina SA discovered at the first two dinners.

“You can’t believe the feedback, it is fascinating to observe. Some get quite claustrophobic, they become dysfunctional,” Cillie said.

“The minute you put a sighted person in a blindfold there is a shutdown, but we don’t want our guest to be uncomfortable.”

Hence, guests will only be “blind” when they sit down for dinner, as they will wear spectacles which show the effect of degenerative eye conditions such as retina pigmentosa (RP) and macular degeneration.

Both Cillie and Kat Flanagan, another in the organising team, have RP and their vision is extremely limited.

However, says Cillie, “we don’t want the ‘ag shame’ factor, we are trying to create the awareness that people with a disability can still do things”.

Flanagan is an accountant who works at BVDM in Newton Park as an auditor. She also is a qualified fashion designer and keen road runner.

“Kathleen is a very good example of a low-vision person being very functional and following her dreams and goals,” Cillie said.

And Flanagan, who reckons the event will be tremendous fun, is hoping they sell heaps more tickets. “It’s a heightened sensory experience, so come and join us,” she said this week.

Having served at previous Dinners in the Dark, she has noticed how diners fumble with their food and splash their drinks.

“Don’t wear white!” she warns, especially if you drink red wine, “you might miss your glass – sometimes people even miss the table!”

To add to the fun, guests will be asked to identify what they are eating and what country they think a dish comes from.

For example, they may experience the fragrance of fresh coriander in a Thai dish, taste a creamy brie from France and a spicy curry from India, followed by the chewy texture of South African biltong.

They will have to rely on senses other than sight to help them identify what chef Burman is placing on their table.

“He’s very creative and he’s come up with amazing ideas,” Cillie said.

Table manners may fly out the window and it will be a sight to behold – depending on how good your vision is!

Tickets are R250 each but R2,000 for a table of 10. There will be a coffee station and cash bar. Boost Creative Solutions’ Niqui Cloete-Barrass will entertain guests.

Further information from Susan at Retina SA, 041-3630164 or e-mail eastcape@retinasa.org.za

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