BEHIND THIS CELEBRITY CHEF’S TANTALIZING DINNER IN THE DARK SERIES, A SENSORY EYE OPENER

BY CHEF DAVID BURKE

A lot of people ask me how my idea for “Dinner in the Dark” blindfolded dinners was born. Inventing something novel is a process that involves time, experience, and a host of other intangibles. What helps my creative process is keeping an open mind, so when a new idea sparks, I can grab ahold of it and explore its potential.

Years ago, I held a blindfolded dinner at South Beach Food and Wine Festival, and it was a lot of fun. I’m always interested in utilizing all the senses and doing something unique, delicious, and social, like a blind wine tasting. You can have a lot of fun with the food and wine.

My restaurant 1776 is located in Morristown’s cool downtown district. It’s also where the famous Seeing Eye dog training program is located. Trainers working with visually impaired people and their special service dogs are often seen on the sidewalks there. It got me thinking about holding a blind dinner again.

While that was fresh on my mind, I attended the Governor’s Cup, an event at Drumthwacket in Princeton, that recognizes New Jersey’s best wines. I met the public relations representative for the New Jersey Wine Growers Association, Devon Perry, there. She asked, “How can we get you a well known New Jersey chef to help us promote New Jersey Wines?”

“Listen,” I said. “The best way is to have a blind tasting.” I had been wanting to do the blind dinners anyway and these incidents were the catalyst to creating my “Dinner in the Dark” series. We launched the first dinner in the wine room at Red Horse, and it was an instant hit. We held a few more, the word spread, and the dinners got traction. Now we’re holding monthly dinners for 20-40 people at The Loft at Red Horse and The Chandelier Room at THE GOAT.

Here’s the breakdown: diners receive a cocktail and a few different wines from notable regions like California, Italy, and France. Then we throw in a wine from Jersey. There’s an after dinner cocktail made with a Jersey hard cider or berry wine. Every time, people are pleasantly surprised that one of the wines is from NJ.

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The chefs and I create menus with dishes that can be picked up with fingers or with a fork or spoon. When creating the tastings, we focus on all the other senses and create dishes that are aromatic, foods with interesting textures and surprising flavors, like Jersey peaches in an Italian risotto, oysters with mango, and crispy bacon with peanut butter. It’s like a game people love it.

During the meal, I talk about the cocktails, wines, and food. I throw in some trivia. Oftentimes the New Jersey winemakers show up to talk about their wines, too. But here’s one of the best things about the events: the interaction around the table. There are no cell phones. You’re conversing with your table mates and having fun.

DRIFTHOUSE by David Burke

1485 Ocean Avenue, Sea Bright

732.530.9760 / drifthousedb.com chefdavidburke.com