Kitchen Exhibitionist
The Culinary Quests of a Food Enthusiast Stuck in the Sticks
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Restaurant Rorschach
Restaurant Rorschach

Back when I was attending graduate school for a degree in clinical psychology, I went to classes during the day and worked as a waitress at night. By day I learned how to administer and score a variety of psychological personality tests. By night I discovered that what people ate and how they ate it told me much more about them than any psych test ever could.

It began quite simply when I noticed very definitive differences between people who ordered their beef cooked on the rare side and those who ordered it more well-done. The rare beef-eaters tended to be very personable, adventurous in their dining, and generally fun-loving. The well-done beef-eaters were restrained in their behavior, restrained in the quality and quantity of food they ordered, and more introverted.

The rare eaters lingered slowly over their meal, typically starting with appetizers and ending with desserts. The well-done eaters consumed their main course (and whatever came with it), then paid and left. The rares quaffed cocktails and wine while the well-dones sipped coffee.

The rares might rave about the food and send their compliments to the chef. The well-dones often found something to complain about. The rares talked, laughed, and enjoyed themselves while the well-dones watched them from across the dining room in tight-lipped silence.

I realize this is a generalization and there are plenty of exceptions, some whom I know personally. Just as the standardized personality tests are not 100% accurate, neither is my waitress’ theory of psychology. But over the course of several years working as a waitress in two busy restaurants, I saw support for this theory over and over again, as did my dining room colleagues.

My fellow servers and I often discussed this phenomenon but we were never able to determine the cause and effect of the correlation. Were the behaviors and attitudes we saw a direct reflection and result of the food consumed? Perhaps the high amounts of iron in the rare beef caused increased blood flow in the those customers, resulting in unabashed pleasurable satisfaction, while the consumption of dry gray over-cooked beef caused the spiritless abstemiousness we saw in those other customers. Maybe Brillat-Savarin’s oft paraphrased homily, “we are what we eat” is more than just metaphor.

Or was it the other way around? Did one’s existing personality determine the types of food one chooses to consume? Perhaps the gastronomic voluptuary is unashamed of feasting with abandon and “living to eat” while the ascetic forever clings to his iron-clad “eat to live” philosophy?

We never knew which, but we all agreed on one thing. The moment a customer ordered his beef well-done, we could be pretty sure that the gratuity would not be a penny more than 15 percent.

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