Chef Brian Okin of Verve (1332 Carnegie Ave., 216-664-5500) recently hosted a culinary experiment at his restaurant called "Dinner in the Dark." He and co-founding chefs Jeff Jarrett (of North End in Hudson) and Scene's newly crowned Best New Chef, Ellis Cooley (of Amp 150), rounded up a few friends and threw an eight-course dinner party for 70 lucky diners. Round 2 will be held November 15, and if any of this sounds fun, we suggest you call Verve immediately to reserve a spot. Following are highlights from our conversation with Okin:
Bites: I picture a bunch of people wearing blindfolds and groping around for their dinner. Am I close?
Brian Okin: That's what everybody thought, that they would be eating in the dark. The concept is that diners are in the dark about what they're going to be eating, what they're going to be drinking, and what chefs will be doing the cooking. The excitement comes from being surprised and opening your eyes to new flavors.
Bites: What happens when Jane Diner announces she doesn't eat lamb?
Okin: Dinner in the Dark is not for everybody. No disrespect to vegetarians or diners with special needs, but this is not for them.
Bites: The event must be fun for you.
Okin: It gives the chefs an opportunity to try things they may not be able to do in their own kitchens because the clientele or neighborhood won't support it. Here you have a room full of people who know about and enjoy food. Those are valuable opinions.
Bites: There was some serious talent sharing the range. How did that go?
Okin: I actually got goose pimples watching these top chefs walk into my kitchen. It was more fun than I imagined. Everybody pitched in to help with each course. Nobody tried to outdo each other. That was the main reason I started this. There are chefs in this town I've known for 20 years who I've never gotten to cook with.
Bites: Not only that, but proceeds go to charity, right?
Okin: This is not a money-making endeavor for me, my restaurant, or any of the chefs involved. Thanks to donations from food purveyors and Farmer Jones, our first event made $3,400 for Veggie U.