When Brian Okin first approached fellow Cleveland chef Jeff Jarrett with the idea for Dinner in the Dark in October 2010, the duo never thought that they would make it this far.
“Quite honestly, we thought it would just be one and done,” says Okin. Now Okin, executive chef at Luxe Kitchen & Lounge, and Jarrett, executive chef of AMP 150, just celebrated their two-year anniversary, and are in the midst of turning Dinner in the Dark into a nonprofit organization.
A typical dinner goes something like this: Guests buy tickets in advance, but aren’t told what they will be eating or who will be making it, effectively keeping them “in the dark” until the moment they sit down and drape a napkin across their lap.
Okin and Jarrett recruit local chefs to each prepare one of the six featured courses for the 60 to 90 guests attending. Ticket proceeds go to a local charity decided upon by the participating chefs. So far, Dinner in the Dark has donated to 16 different organizations.
Though they don’t get paid, chefs gain something uniquely valuable: the chance to collaborate with chefs they would otherwise have trouble finding opportunities to work with.
“We’re all so busy that the only time we ever get together is after work in a bar, after we’ve worked 16 hours and we don’t want to talk about food,” says Okin. “This idea got six or seven chefs into the same kitchen, sharing ideas.”
In addition, Okin sees Dinner in the Dark as a way to thank the community for their support of Cleveland restaurants.
“It’s hard for independent restaurants to survive,” says Okin. “But there are a lot of people who do their best and try to stay away from chain restaurants. So we want to give back to the community that supports us.”
After taking the month of November off from Dinner in the Dark dinners will resume in December, with new ideas ideas in the works to make sure that Dinner in the Dark continues to evolve.
“We’re looking at other public venues instead of just restaurants,” says Okin. “We have one pretty much secured for February!”
He laughs. “But I can’t tell you what it is. It’s kind of part of the element of surprise.”
To learn more visit DinnerInTheDarkCleveland.com.