The United Way is a charity I have supported for years. Since I started my job with the City of Toronto back in 2004 I have donated my time and money to this notable charity. Every year from September to December the city (every division) raises money to support those less fortunate, who need help – for food, for shelter, for employment, for counselling, for love and for warmth.
This year, I decided to take on more responsibility and became an office ambassador – helping to raise the much-needed money for this organization. Now in my division, times are a bit tough – we have all been a little overwhelmed with new technology that has come on board to eat us alive and people aren’t feeling very giving – but my team is trying and I am happy for every dollar amount raised.
Last night we had an event that not only tested my limits, but my patience and understanding. A large group of us went to O’Noir (http://www.onoirtoronto.com/) for a dining experience like no other.
Since their doors opened in Toronto in 2009, they have been giving Torontonians the experience of eating a meal – IN THE DARK. When I say dark – I mean PITCH BLACK DARKNESS. From the moment the door closes behind you, you cannot see anything. Your other senses intensify and you suddenly gain a small understanding of what it would be like to eat – as a blind person eats every meal, every day of their lives.
Last night I went with 5 of my friends and the 6 of us were brought to a table, by the sweetest man/waiter, named Nasir. Nasir is blind. Like a majority of the staff members there, Nasir plays Host and Server to the guests at this restaurant completely blind to the world around him. His ability to bring our large group to our table, seat us and then bring us our food and drinks was astounding. His calm and gentle demeanour not only made me have even more respect for this industry, but made sure that I will be returning one day.
Now on to some of the funnier incidents – because alcohol and dining in the dark, do NOT go together easily. My colleague (like the majority of us) had bought a glass of wine before being seated (and prior to being submerged into darkness) and as we were walking through the seating area – completely blind – she was knocked by another friend and her wine spilt down the back of my coat (to be seated you walk one in front of the other holding on to their shoulders). Once seated, I placed my wine to my left as is custom (I guess) and that same friend who knocked the wine onto my jacket reached over to give me the bread basket and instead of reaching high (to avoid hitting something) she slammed the basket directly into MY wine glass sending it flying into my lap (thankfully I was smart and wore all dark colours yesterday). I spent the rest of the meal drenched in red wine and getting drunk off the fumes that I was no longer consuming. I used about 20 napkins to clean up because of course I had to do everything by the sense of touch.
When I finally got my bread, I had to use the knife to spread a small cap of butter…after making a few attempts, I used my pointer finger to spread the rest of the butter over the bun and then gorged on it because it was warm and tasted SO good!
Our appetizer came next and mine was the Roasted Red Peppers and Seasonal Vegetables with Goat Cheese. I love goat cheese, I will eat any meal that has goat cheese. I wasn’t so sure about the red peppers but I figured why not. It was delicious. I successfully used my form and knife to eat this part of my meal and then used my finger to slurp up the rest of the cheese and dressing. Some of my colleagues got the arugula salad and they all said it was really good.
For dinner I chose the Pesto Chicken Breast with Potatoes and Vegetables. At first, trying to eat green beans (the vegetable) was quite the feat, but not one to give up, I paid attention to my fork and the feel of my fork gliding into whatever food it touched and soon I was sucking down green beans and digging into moist, flavourful chicken! My colleague did get one green bean up her nose and we all died laughing because she was also enjoying her evening with her date for the night – Jack Daniels.
The potatoes were small chunks with a great seasoning and I am positive it took me about a minute and a half to scarf down my entire meal. It was incredible. My colleagues who got the Filet Mignon weren’t as thrilled, I guess some felt the “medium” was actually “medium rare” but overall were still happy. The only way to really tell if you are finished your meal is to touch the plate around the edges and through the middle. What an experience!
Dessert was the final course and all of us except my beautiful friend Sarah chose the chocolate mousse. She chose the “surprise”. The chocolate mousse was a huge, sumptuous, mouth-watering slather. I couldn’t even eat it all – that’s right I COULDN’T EAT ALL THE CHOCOLATEY GOODNESS. Sarah’s surprise was a caramel type cheesecake which she truly enjoyed as well! Great surprise! (note*** you can get any portion of your meal as a surprise).
At the end of the meal, Nasir walked us back to the light and we all laughed and smiled about how wonderful our meal and our evening was. Experiencing blindness is something that will live with me forever, the anxiety, the fear, the trust you need to put in others (both the blind and non-blind alike) gave me a small glimpse into the lives of those who live like this everyday. I have taken Sign Language classes to support the lives of those who are deaf or hard of hearing and truly gained an understanding of deaf culture, but blind culture is 100% different and my respect level has risen.
I highly recommend anyone in Toronto, Montreal, New York, LA or any other city that has an O’Noir type restaurant to visit and try it out – take a chance, take a risk. You only live once, don’t be too blind to see what opportunities are right in front of you.