Everyone loves going out to dinner, it’s our chance to be daring and adventurous with food, to try something we may not normally have at home. But what if you went that step further? The Blink Experience is a dining experience in which you spend an hour and a half being served an expertly cooked four course meal all whilst blindfolded. We spoke to David Brooker to ask him more about his unique venture.
I originally come from Cambridge, I’ve lived in Brighton for about twelve years. One of the most poignant parts of my background is the fact that I’ve been putting on events, club nights for about twenty years, so I’ve always had a creative outlet with the organising of events. I’ve been feeling like I’ve wanted to do something more but I didn’t really know what that was or what it looked like until recently. I was at a festival in Spain in the summer this year and one of the camps did a blindfolded dinner. It was very small scale but it was an amazing experience and I spoke to the people who organised it and I asked them if anything like it was going on at home in England and they said no it was sort of a one off. Coming from Brighton, I thought that it was a crime really that it wasn’t going on back home so the seed was planted then. Have you heard of Liberated International before? It’s a movement that’s based in Perth but it’s kind of international, they do events based on human connection, peace and love and I’ve been following them for quite a while via social media. They do all sorts of fun flash-mob type things like starting parties on tubes and having mass book reading sessions in the middle of the city and recently they did the world’s largest eye contact experiment. I saw that this came up and they were hosting the one in Perth and they were asking people from cities across the world to put on the event to raise their hand and take on the organisation of doing it in their city. My initial reaction was that somebody was already doing it in Brighton, with Brighton being Brighton, and I looked on their website for the list of cities that were already taken. I saw London, Cardiff and Newcastle but not Brighton. There were about 120,000 attendees recorded worldwide in over 100 cities. There was a massive turnout, and the Brighton one went really well. There were loads of people and it was a great day, I met some amazing people who moved and inspired me. They joined forces with me with the whole experience. I had the backing of so many like-minded people who wanted to do something great for the community and do something creative. It just started from there really, we booked a venue, and it just grew and grew. More people were volunteering and we ended up having a team of about twenty five people helping out. I started thinking that this was bigger than I originally thought, I built the website and did all the branding and we’ve been developing it into an ongoing thing. It’s called the Blink Experience and those particular events were the sensory dinners. The idea is that we are creating a number of other experiences whilst being blindfolded and that’s kind of where we are now. The dinners were both sold out, we did two nights and we were turning people away in the second dinner. We had a great response to it and people generally had a really great time including us, it’s become a bit of a family. The next stage is regrouping, having a bit of time off and putting the plans together for our next step.
Is the food you serve unusual in anyway? Do the people know what they’re eating before they eat it?
No they don’t, a lot of people put complete trust in us, and pay for it, on many levels. They are coming to an event they don’t know a great deal about, we’re quite secretive about it, we did however state that the four courses were vegetarian. We provided a questionnaire for the attendees and asked various questions about their dietary requirements, any allergies or phobias, any experience with mental illness and some questions about themselves to create a bespoke experience. Lots of lots of people were coming back saying that they were vegan, so we went back and rewrote the menu so that it was entirely vegan and gluten-free. We removed all the potential issues for allergies so it ended up begin a vegan menu. Lots of people didn’t question it, there were some people who would remind us that they were vegan when they arrived but many didn’t, they had put complete trust in us. We blind-folded them and they allowed us to entertain them for an hour and a half. It’s quite a long time to be blindfolded, it was really surprising.
So how did you go about finding the Chefs to take part?
The Chef was actually from the venue, we did the event at an Italian restaurant. I’ve put on events there before so I knew the owner. We sat down and planned an initial menu, and the group did a lot of training, we met quite a few times, and did workshops and training. We practiced manoeuvring people and we also did taste testing. The first menu came through, and it was very Italian. What we really wanted was to have a menu where it wasn’t obvious, so people were biting into something of a particular texture that might have been a bit odd and strange, we wanted to keep people guessing. We scrapped the original menu after the first taste testing, we actually did three versions of the menu before we cracked it but it was the same chef. He’s a really talented guy and he’s got a background in Asian cooking as well as Italian.
Have you been surprised by the amount of positive feedback you’ve received? Did you think it would become a huge thing?
I had an inkling it would be right from the word go, but I didn’t realise we’d be turning people away. We originally planned to have more guests and pack them in and then over time we realised it would be better to have more space so we reduced the number of guests. We ended up going with 46 guests per event and on the first night that was a sell-out, we had a few people email asking if there were any tickets left so we sort of pushed them towards the second night. On the second night that sold out about midday on the day, I was obviously trying to organise the evening but I was also replying to emails with people asking if there were any tickets left. I didn’t realise it would be that quick, I thought it would be something that we would have to do a few of to build it up.
I can tell you a bit. We want to branch out into different areas. One side of the coin is the blink experiences. We have a variety of ideas, we’ve done sensory dinners and we’re planning on doing sensory dinners for singles. We’ve been planning on doing a much bigger version of the sensory dinners which will involve a much bigger venue in the countryside and there’s more rooms and more scope to create more of a journey and a more immersive experience where you can travel from one room to another, whilst also incorporating the sensory dinner. We are also looking at doing some workshops for schools, and also looking into an escape room. The project, at the moment, is called Chambers. It’s basically a room, or a box, and you put a load of people in it and they have to solve puzzles to get out, sort of like Crystal Maze. There’s already one in Brighton but we have a unique slant on it but I can’t go into too much detail about it at this point but we’ve taken it to a whole new level and on top of that it’s blindfolded. There will be a lot of team building and working together to solve the puzzles. It’s got that message of bringing people together and team work. That’s one of the big projects we’re working on at the moment. I would also be really keen to do festivals, particularly the escape rooms is something we can travel with and I’d also really like to do the sensory dinners. At this stage it’s all in the wind, but that’s where we’re at, at the moment.
What would you say to people who are a bit sceptical about doing something like this? Do you have any advice or words of encouragement for those who are a bit hesitant to take part?
We’ve advertised it and promoted it with minimal amounts of information, we haven’t really given too much away. As far as the public know it’s a blindfolded sensory dinner, you’ll be guided and there will be a four course meal and a form of awakening at the end. This is where everybody gathers together and removes their blindfold. We create a particular environment for that particular section of the evening and based on those two nights we did it was pretty special. People don’t really know much about it and we tell people that we are here to make sure people have a good time, we’re well trained, and we’ve had people who have worked on community projects and with the blind before. We’ve had people who work in care homes and we want people to have a great time and have an experience they may not have had before and to go away and remember it in a positive light. That’s what we’ve put out there, put your trust in us and we’ll give you a good time, that’s what the Blink Experience is.
What’s your favourite thing about living in Brighton?
I love the sea, I love the countryside like the downs. I love the diversity, I like the anything goes mentality, that’s what gets me about Brighton. I’ve been here twelve years and I still feel like I’m on holiday, that’s a bold statement but that’s how I feel about Brighton.