THEY SAT AS a group, decidedly not together but not exactly separate.
People in a crowd often act as one organism; they think and act as one. It has been called everything from “group think” to “mob mentality.” We in the restaurant business refer to it occasionally as “monkey see, monkey do” — less eloquent perhaps but no less accurate.
“I’ll have a gin fizz,” requested the vanguard of the little mob.
Inside, I cringed. A gin fizz can mean one of three different drinks. Two are variations on a theme: a combination of regular gin or sloe gin (not really gin but a very sweet liqueur), lemon juice, occasionally sweetener and soda water. The third is better known by its other name, the Ramos Fizz, a combination of gin, cream, orange flower water, sugar and lemon. And one more ingredient, which caused me to cringe: raw egg.
“Ramos,” she said, adding to my inner turmoil.
One sticky, goopy mess later, the frothy embodiment of that mess materialized, garnished with a dusting of fresh grated nutmeg.
The second person in the mob saw what the first had ordered and, perhaps in a display of psychological awareness, decided to one-up the other’s order while still conforming to the group dynamic.
“I’ll have a Pisco sour.”
Another sloppy service mess and the second drink — a mixture of South American clear brandy, lemon juice, sugar and raw egg white — appeared, garnished with a drop or two of Angostura bitters tickling the foam.
Person No. 3 took both the one-upsmanship and the mob mentality to another level.
“I’ll have a Rattlesnake,” the svelte brunette said. “You do know what that is, don’t you?”
“Bourbon, lemon juice, sugar, egg white and a topper of absinthe,” I said, securing my place in the mob.
I looked at my growing pile of bartending implements that now needed meticulous cleaning. Bartenders often grumble about raw egg cocktails because not only are they time-consuming to make, but also time-consuming to clean up after.
“Why are you doing that?” the brunette asked as I washed the dishes.
“Raw egg gets everywhere after shaking and stirring and straining all those ingredients, and in the restaurant business, raw egg can mean cross-contamination.”
“The drinks are wonderful though. Here, try mine.”
“Because I’ve had salmonella.”
“What was that like?”
“Well, it started about 12 hours after I had eaten. A touch of a headache, then came the cold chills, soon enough I was shaking like a leaf. My stomach began to rumble and churn, then the cramps doubled me over and then it came. You’ve never felt more like an animal than when you are standing in the shower while your body violently purges itself from every orifice simultaneously. And it can go on for hours and even days.”
I noticed that the little mob had quieted down and were listening intently.
“If you are lucky (if lucky can be applied to such a predicament) the worst symptoms last for three days and you recover a little shaky. If you are unlucky the symptoms persist for over a week and you will need to be hospitalized. If you a really unlucky, you could develop Reiter’s syndrome, a disease that can last for years and can lead to other problems.”
After my speech, the mob dispersed as mobs are wont to do, but I noticed that three drinks were left more than half full.
Here are some statistics for you to think about before ordering a raw egg cocktail:
• According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, salmonella is responsible for 1.4 million illnesses, 15,000 hospitalizations and 400 deaths in the U.S. annually.
• The CDC estimates that raw or undercooked eggs are the cause in about 75 percent of salmonella incidences.
• One in every 10,000 eggs is infected. Luckily, thorough cooking virtually eliminates the risk.
At least three people now might think twice about raw egg cocktail choices in the future, which means one bartender might make fewer Pisco sours, Ramos fizzes and Rattlesnakes. And that makes him happy.