Dimly lit restaurants are no rarity in New York. But at Abigail’s Kitchen in Greenwich Village, reduced visibility isn’t exactly for ambience. Twice a week, chef-owner Abigail Hitchcock offers Dinners in the Dark, for which she blindfolds her guests before they enter the dining space, then serves them a multicourse, seasonal menu of items that are kept secret until the end of the meal, allowing the diners’ remaining sensory faculties—particularly their taste buds—to take center stage.
Hitchcock grew up on the East End of Long Island, which was, at the time, known for its fishing bounty and produce—both of which instilled in her a deep appreciation for fresh, local foods. Though she originally earned her bachelor’s degree in botany, her time living in a self-catering flat while studying abroad in England, one equipped with a kitchen and located near neighborhood butcher shops and produce stands, ignited her passion for food. Hitchcock went on to graduate from Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School (now the Institute of Culinary Education) in 1995, and within a few years, was running her namesake restaurant.
Based on a proposition by a friend and patron, Hitchcock introduced the Dinners in the Dark series in 2005, and it’s been a hallmark of the space ever since. (She hosted monthly virtual versions of the affair during the pandemic, and recently returned to in-person iterations.) Here, Hitchcock describes how a lack of sight can dramatically alter the eating experience by increasing one’s connection with their food, their surroundings, and themselves.
“Normally, we eat with our eyes. You anticipate what your food is going to taste like based on what it looks like—but when you’re blindfolded, you can’t do that. Across the board, my guests say that the lack of vision heightens their other senses, taste included.
When I’m coming up with my menus, I think a lot about texture and aroma, because those become the things that entice people initially. Ninety-nine percent of people use their hands at some point to find what’s on their plates, and to make sure they haven’t missed anything. So I try to make it interesting [for them to discover] food in that regard, too. I want my guests to come away from the experience with a new understanding of the notion of mindful eating. I want them to take more time when they’re consuming food at home, and to recognize its flavors.
At these dinners, everybody tries to guess what they’re eating. I don’t know if you could not guess. One of the foods that people frequently guess wrong is fruit, especially in desserts. For instance, one summer I was making blueberry tarts: a super straightforward crust, blueberries, and a crumb topping. And a lot of people, about twenty-five percent of the room, thought it was apple. Other times, people guess the wrong food type, but the right color. They’ll mistake a sweet potato for a carrot, for example. I find that fascinating. I feel like you can, to some extent, taste colors.
Sometimes people are a bit nervous to try foods they can’t see. I tell them to rest assured that we’re not serving weird stuff. It’s not about trying to get you to eat something you’ve never had before. It’s about sinking into the darkness, and allowing your other senses to become intensified.
To that point, everyone who does dark dining feels more comfortable just letting go. That can manifest in different ways. For instance, people are more amorous, and more openly so. One time, there was an older man who started motioning, like a conductor, to the music we were playing. It was so cool to watch how deeply into it he was. You aren’t going to get that with a normal dinner, ever.”
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