Meals of­fered in dark­ness by the blind

Simcoe Reformer - - CLASSIFIEDS - GON­ZALO SOLANO

Quito, ecuador — on the out­skirts of ecuador’s cap­i­tal, young cou­ples and fam­i­lies ven­ture into a pitch­black cave in search of an un­likely ex­pe­ri­ence: a meal in the dark.

blind waiters guide guests to their ta­bles and de­liver tangy fruit juices and ap­pe­tiz­ing dishes like caramelized veg­eta­bles and sweet fried ba­nanas — foods the owner be­lieves can taste even more de­light­ful when din­ers can’t see what they are eat­ing.

La cueva de rafa, or rafa’s cave, is the brain­child of rafael Wild, an ecuadorean who spent years manag­ing an ital­ian restau­rant in Switzer­land. af­ter re­turn­ing to Quito, he be­gan build­ing a cave as a pas­time and later de­cided to open a restau­rant in­side, run by the blind and serv­ing meals in ab­so­lute dark­ness.

it’s a con­cept that has al­ready sur­faced in euro­pean cities in­clud­ing Paris and barcelona and in the united States. the Quito restau­rant is the only din­ing-in-the-dark es­tab­lish­ment in Latin amer­ica, aside from oc­ca­sional pop-up events.

Wild said he was in­spired by his own child­hood in ecuador, much of which he spent travers­ing the great out­doors, in­clud­ing nearby caves.

“i liked ex­plor­ing in the dark­ness,” he said.

the restau­rant aims to pro­vide jobs for the blind, in­crease aware­ness of their daily strug­gles, and de­liver a unique culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence. ac­cord­ing to the World Health or­ga­ni­za­tion, there are 40 mil­lion to 45 mil­lion blind peo­ple in the world, in­clud­ing about five mil­lion in Latin amer­ica.

din­ers vis­it­ing La cueva de rafa first walk through a nar­row, dimly lighted tun­nel. once in­side, servers ask guests to place a hand on their shoul­der in or­der to guide them through the murky cave to­ward their ta­bles. Guests move awk­wardly through the dark while the waiters — most of whom have been blind since child­hood — step firmly ahead.

Gabriel bolanos, a blind an­a­lyst at the min­istry of for­eign com­merce who tends ta­bles at La cueva de rafa on week­ends, pre­sented din­ers with two op­tions: an à la carte menu fea­tur­ing items like veg­etable lasagna and steak, or a sur­prise dish. the sur­prise dish in­cluded a sweet, slightly acidic juice and tor­tillas made with quinoa and mashed pota­toes.

at ta­bles, some din­ers laughed with friends as they wres­tled with the un­ex­pected chal­lenge of putting food on a fork they could not see.

for oth­ers, the dark­ness proved un­bear­able.

fer­nando bucheli, an ar­chi­tect, left af­ter five min­utes, too ner­vous to stay any longer in a din­ing room where cell­phones and light-emit­ting watches are pro­hib­ited.

“i felt claus­tro­pho­bic, dis­ori­ented,” he said. “the an­guish kept get­ting worse.”

DOLORES OCHOA/AP PHO­TOS

Blind waiter Gabriel Bolanos pre­par­ing a ta­ble be­fore guests ar­rive at “La Cueva de Rafa,” or Rafa’s Cave restau­rant, in Quito, Ecuador.

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