The Last Bite Axiom (and Corollaries)

As you well know, I give a fair amount of thought to food (understatement of the year). Lately, I’ve been thinking more and more about the special ways in which we eat our food. In paying attention to this, I have noticed the host of small unconscious ceremonials that I conduct while eating, and I wanted to share them with you.

I hope you’ll recognize yourself in this and I won’t feel so neurotic.

The Last Bite Axiom says : “the last bite has to be the best”. When eating a dish, I will always make sure to prepare for the last bite, reserving a little bit of the best elements of the dish as I go, in a specially designated area of my plate. Water/Wine Corollary : if thirsty, it is important to drink before the last bite, to maximize the lingering time of the last bite’s sensory experience. (And please, do not just snitch a taste from my plate haphazardly, or you may very well have eaten my Last Bite.)

Fork and order. When I take multi-bites – by which I mean bites that include several food elements – I will plant my fork in the optimal order, depending on the relative tenderness and resistance of each piece. The softest one has to be picked first, so it can be pushed up by the tougher ones that follow. Otherwise, the more fragile food just gets squished or broken by the uncompromising one, all hell breaks loose and you’ve missed the opportunity for a perfectly formed forkful.

A sense of proportion. Fact : plates are often composed of several elements in varying quantities (meat or fish, vegetables, starch, condiment, garnish…). Challenge : one element cannot be allowed to overcome the others. Solution : I will adapt my eating rythm proportionately, keeping an eye on the level of remaining resources, to ensure that harmony reigns throughout the eating of the dish.

Breakfast toast. I like toasted bread in the morning, and I like having a nice variety of goodies to spread on it. At all times, I also have about seven or eight open jars of spreads, jams and nut butters to choose from. But I usually eat just one slice of bread, two at the most. So at every breakfast, I select the spreads that appeal to me the most, cut my bread slices in sections, and spread each with a different jam. I then proceed to eat the sections in a rotation, one bite of each at a time. While I chew, I make up my mind as to which spread I enjoy the most (and this depends on the type of bread and my mood). I may have to break the rotation to leave a bite of that one for last.

Pineapple. Vertically cut chunks of fresh pineapple are noticeably sweeter on one end, but I can never remember if it’s the top or bottom. So I always start by taking a bite on each end to determine which is which, and then work my way up from tart to sweet.

Square of chocolate. In French cafés and restaurants, you often get a thin little square of chocolate wrapped in foil and paper with your coffee. (You can also find boxes of such chocolates in stores, to give to your guests. I myself have bought a box of Michel Cluzet chocolates of different origins at G. Detou, which I keep in my desk drawer at work for moments of discouragement.) When presented with a chocolate square, I snap it in two, turn it 90° and snap it in two again, to break it into four equal square sections. I then open the paper and foil, and nibble on those sections while drinking the coffee, ending with a bite of chocolate (see : Last Bite Axiom). All too often I see people gobble up their chocolate before the coffee has even started to cool down. This lack of foresight renders them quite chocolate-less when the coffee drinking times come. How they live through it I don’t know.

The edge of the sandwich. All the scientists I’ve talked to agree that the edges constitute the least enjoyable area in a sandwich : this is where the bread crust is found and where the filling is scarce, so it’s a bit on the dry side. But the edge is a necessary evil, in that it provides an easy grip on the sandwich, and a barrier to keep the filling inside and avoid excess spillage on your blue shirt. But of course, the last bite axiom (see : Last Bite Axiom) forbids me to eat the edge last. I have thus become very good at holding the sandwich by the center when the end is near, getting it over with the last of the edge without endangering the overall equilibrium, so I can enjoy a scrumptious last bite of generously filled central sandwich.

People talk about food for thoughts, I mostly have thoughts for food, what are you gonna do?

Things Clotilde Loves

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  • Yay, you’re weirder than I am! BUT, I totally do the edge of the sandwich thing, and live by the last bit axiom. I’m glad I’m not the only one.

  • Here’s my theory about coffee.

    A cup of coffee always has one sip too few. It’s just when I want that LAST sip of coffee to get me through, that I tip up the mug and find it EMPTY.

    The horror.

  • foo

    I used to blame the Last Bite Axiom for the excess fat on my body. For a while I tried to eat sandwiches, etc. from the inside out, which made me much less happy than being fat ever did.

    Still working on the chocolate and coffee timing issue. I like to have chocolate in my mouth when I drink the hot espresso, because I enjoy the melting, but you’re so right about the importance of having chocolate be the last bite, what to do, what to do?

  • Jackie – Hey, you calling me weird? I’m just uh… different, is all! :)

    Rappy – You know what? I am the exact opposite, I never drink the last sip of coffee! Maybe by some supernatural phenomenon, I get all your last sips in my mug? I’ll start saving them for you, then!

    Foo – I’m with you, that’s exactly why I break the chocolate into pieces : so I can have some while drinking, but still save a piece for last!

  • I’m a total believer in the Last Bite Axiom too, with the exception of sandwitches made with good bread… but as you might know I’m a bit uh, what was it? yeah, different :-) when it comes to bread. I like good bread crust, it’s one of the hardest things to get when one bakes bread.
    Lately someone pointed to me their First Bite Axiom: “you have to eat the best first because one can only truly enjoy the flavours of a dish with clean and “virgin” tastebuds”. It didn’t change my belief in the last bite axiom but made me think…. still thinking :-)

  • Alberto – You are right : good, fresh bread needs no filling! And your friend has an excellent point about the first taste. To me, it doesn’t cancel out the need for a perfect last bite, there’s (thankfully) enough good food to make a perfect first bite as well! But I’ll definitely start thinking more about that “First Bite Axiom”!

  • joanna

    i do the toast thing

    i do the balance thing

    i do the last bite thing

    so i *do* do each of those things, but not to the extreme that you do.

    As far as the bread crust thing goes, my “problem”, if you will, is that i spread and spread and spread until the bread is covered to every bit of its edge with the toppin in question, no matter how miniscule the uncovered section is, it must be covered.
    My family teases me about this, however, i’m fine with it. Hélas

  • miss kim

    When I saw “Last Bite Axiom,” I was sure you were going to refer to the phenomenon I’ve observed when a group of people dine together sharing food: no one wants to take the last bite/piece/slice/morsel/crumb as they fear the others might think them a piggy, all the while everyone wants it! In my group of friends we’ve called this “the pig slice.” (we were usually having pizza, so…) I so the fork loading thingy, too, as some foods just have to have their companion tastes to be right. And I’m right there with you, Joanna, about spreading whatever it is to the very edge of the bread. Mmm…

  • Miss Kim – The “pig slice”, I love that, and it’s so true! Will have to come up with a good French translation! “La part du porc” maybe? (Pronounced “la par du por”, the t and the c are mute.)

    JoAnna – Ah yes, I do the spreading thing too, at the risk of having jam on my fingers — but is that really a problem? :)

  • the bee

    When I was very young and my Mom would butter/jam etc. my bread, it would upset me since the spread was never to the edges. It encouraged me to do my own sandwiches. Was this her intention all along?

  • I should do the toast bit, my fridge has 5 types of spread in it right now. That means 5 spoons to wash, hmmm. But I totally agree with spreading right to the edge, so if I press on the sandwich there is some “overhang”, which ensures a lovely last bite.

    As for pineapples, I just eat the sweet bits and leave the rest, the sour parts just make my tongue tingle more.

  • Lisa

    As for the pineapple phenomenon, the sugar travels down. So the bottom of the pineapple is always sweeter. This is true for virtually all fruit, in varying degrees. Which provides a real dilemma when it comes to big, fresh strawberries and the last bite axiom–the first bite of a big strawberry is often noticeably sweeter than the last bite, near the stem. What’s a girl to do?

  • The bee – That is one smart mom you have there!

    Umami – Um… I just use the same spoon, and figure that a little dulce de leche can’t hurt the melon jam, and vice-versa!

    Lisa – Interesting bit about the sugar, I’d never noticed it in strawberries! Maybe the solution is to eat the stem as well? :)

  • The bee – That is one smart mom you have there!

    Umami – Um… I just use the same spoon, and figure that a little dulce de leche can’t hurt the melon jam, and vice-versa!

    Lisa – Interesting bit about the sugar, I’d never noticed it in strawberries! Maybe the solution is to eat the stem as well? :)

  • Kim

    I love it! I completely agree with the “last bite axiom” & practice all of your food rituals as well.

  • Kim – I’m glad you can relate to my somewhat obsessive behavior! :)

  • Eve

    Here”s the problem with the last bite axiom—what if you never get to the last bite? One evening when I was very little my mother gave me a plate of cookies, half filled with apricot jam, half filled with raspberry jam. The apricot ones were good, but the raspberry ones were divine. I slowly began enjoying the apricot cookies all the while looking forward to the raspberry happiness awaiting me at the end. Just as I finished the last apricot cookie, however, my mother revealed the previously unannounced condition that I had to give half of the cookies, that is, ALL the remaining cookies, to my sister. Having just consumed half a plate of cookies, I could see I had no moral leg to stand on and surrendered the cookies. If I had only known the situation I would have practiced a better cookie-management system. Reading “The Last Bite Axiom” I see I never recovered. Maybe this is why I used to work in pastry.

  • Eve

    I am with entirely with Clotilde on fork order and maintaining plate balance, but I like to have coffee be the last taste of the meal, and would consume the chocolate halfway through the cup. I would never choose to eat mints or chew gum after the coffee.

  • Oh Eve, what a heart-breaking story! :) Then again, it’s good to learn those things at an early age… Thanks for sharing!

  • Carrie

    The long-term effects of “le part du porc” can be seen whenever a large dessert, like a cake, is made for a family or group of roommates. In this instance, the dessert goes through a rather hideous “half-life,” like a radioactive element. On the first night, the dessert will be half devoured. (People who normally would not take seconds do so because it is so fresh and tasty.) The second night, one-fourth of the dessert will be eaten. During the third day and night, one-eighth will disappear, and so forth, until, by the sixth day, when the dessert is no longer fresh and delicious, the wee unappetizing dry slice left is merely disassembled in microbits by mischievous fingers (chocolate topping, filling, etc.) and finally the gross sticky bit is not even remotely appetizing and must be tossed by the disgusted chef. Is there any way to force someone to just eat the darn last piece on the third day?

  • I’m glad to be able to say that the Last Bite Axiom has been with me for as long as I can think, resulting in very strange eating habits (biting the crust of first or the way I would eat a tomato sandwich), as has the strange ways (I like to think there is logic involved) of deciding what to eat next and shifting and rearranging my food on the plate constantly.

    And I’m relieved that apparently I’m not the only one with crazy eating habits.

  • Kate

    I’m sure you’ll never see this, but I am slowly working my way through your archives as a procrastination method (sigh), and *had* to say that I do all of those things except the breakfast toast (and the pineapple, since I’ve never bought a whole one!). I am usually in a very clearly defined breakfast mood: peanut butter or butter and honey on my english muffin. But all the rest of it–totally. I have always saved the best bits for the end, and I do the same thing with sandwiches or pizza, though I often end up ditching the last couple dry crusty bites of sandwiches. My husband eats one element of his dinner at a time: His whole burger and then the fries, his whole steak and then his vegetable and then his potatoes, etc. I could never, ever do that. I also have always used my fork tines-down in my left hand (the European way, maybe? I don’t know why…) instead of tines-up in my right hand, because it’s the only way to properly stab the foods and eat them neatly. I think most Americans sort of scoop food? It makes bite assembly difficult.

  • Helen

    When it comes to the sandwich thing, I actually relish the crusts. This is because, nearing the end of the sandwich I will bite around the filling in such a manner as to force some of it to the edges of the bread, forming delicious little ‘pockets’ of filling + crust. This way, I enjoy the texture (and flavour) of the crust, with all the benefits of the filling too. I also freely let some of the filling drop onto the plate with the express intention of mopping it up with the reamining crust. Now THAT is weird.

  • Adrienne

    I know this is quite late, but I too am archive-procrastinating. Le part du porc/pig piece has a name in Italian: la fetta di vergogna. fetta = piece, vergogna = shame. It’s the piece everyone wants but is too ashamed (perhaps by their pigginess?) to take! It’s one of my favorite Italian expressions, and also one of my favorite parts of a meal.

  • I definitely follow you. I always chalked it up to my own mild craziness, so I’m glad I’m not alone!

    I also have a very hard time not tasting everything on the table, especially at restaurants. This makes restraining myself from asking a new dinner guest if I can try their meal very hard!

  • Camille

    Hello Clotilde,

    I have been reading through the archives of your English blog lately whenever work at my summer internship got slack (mostly because I love your prose, but also, I admit, because many interesting media websites are shut down in mainland China, with the notable exception of your blog, rebellious food habits not subversive enough?), and I cannot help leaving a comment on this food-blog stone-age-belonging yet delightful post.

    I know a girl who eats every element of food separately and successively, so when eating a salade composée she will eat all the tomatoes before moving on to the cucumbers and so on, which, in my opinion, defeats the purpose of a salade composée.

    Without going to that extent, as a child, I insisted on eating the chocolate of my Petit Écolier before the biscuit, sometimes going so far as to lick it into oblivion, so afraid was I of breaking the biscuit if I went at it with my teeth. No scornful remarks from my brothers could lead me away from my greedy purpose.

    From a more scientific point of view, one of my friends once went to a fast-food to conduct research on human eating habits (the sort of school assignment that makes me regret my humanities major for a micro-second). He observed that men usually take bites from their burger and fries alternately while girls start eating their fries when their burger is nearly finished. His opinion was that girls, having a smaller stomach, unconsciously choose to eat the more useful food (meat) first and leave the extra and quite redundant starch (the fries) for whatever stomach space they have left at the end. I am sorry to say my friend did not report any Last-Bite idiosyncrasy on that occasion.

    Thank you for your constant efforts to turn the least significant food-related item into a source of joy and wonder, and for helping better the perception of French people’s language skills abroad, despite alarming statistics. Bonne continuation!

    • Thank you Camille, I enjoyed your comment tremendously! ^_^

  • I do the chocolate-bit thing and often the others too. BUT I was never consciencous of WHY I would do that… and as I’m a huge lover of crispy ‘tartes’ (I just made a wonderful tarte aux aspèrges vertes – a rarity in France and the ‘everyday fare’ in Switzerland), this trick doesn’t work well as I have to hold on to the rim (I simply love eating ‘holdable’ stuff with my hands, and I only ever do that at home in my own four walls….). Speaking of asparagus; that’s how I found your above post – because I was interested knowing if you did something as deli as ‘my’ tarte :)
    Now I’ll have to interrupt and go and cook something (opens the fridge and starts making up her mind…..) for Hero Husband and myself. Thank you dear Clotilde

    • I’d love to hear more about how you make your tarte aux asperges vertes ! I have a recipe for it in my latest cookbook The French Market Cookbook if you want to check it out.

      • Je reviendrai à ta demande…. Entretemps j’ai crée une autre follie gourmande avec des jeunes aspèrges blanches (sans recette bien sûr). Mais pour the asparagus tart I’ve already set up the recipe, only haven’t got the time to mail it to you as I’ve guests from abroad. (You don’t want to live so nr to Paris and expect not EVERYBODY you ever met coming for a – or several – visit(s)…..) Oh heaven!

      • Clotilde, voilà, un peu près, la recette…. J’ai refaite, en ajoutant des lardons pré-grillés, parce que nous en étions beaucoup, et naturellement, je prends bien plus d’aspèrges que dans la recette, s’il restent c’est la foire – je les grilles vite, dans une salade, pour une petite soupe, un ajout dans une sauce (bien purées en ce moment)…..
        J’adore te lire et j’ai déjà commandé un livre de toi – le premier! En anglais
        Bisous, Kiki

        Oh, désolée, je dois te l’envoyer séparément; je suis sur le iPad de Mari Magnifique et la recette est sur mon ordi…. Ca va arriver sous peu!

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