According to a piece on pizza box art on the CBS News website today, “The caricature of a smiling mustachioed chef has been a popular feature of pizza boxes for decades. Sources say it dates back to the 1950s, to a hand-painted sign on the roof of Schaller’s Drive-In in Rochester, N.Y., though some claim it dates back even before World War II.” CBS calls this image “The Winking Chef” although, in the example they give online, both of the chef’s eyes are open so that he is not actually winking.
In fact, the gesture he is employing is an ancient Italian one. There is a famous description of the extremely beautiful Psyche found in Apuleius’ Golden Ass, from second-century AD which bears a striking resemblance to what the Winking Chef is doing. As Apuleius writes, “Many of the citizens and plenty of visitors whom the rumor of an outstanding spectacle had gathered with crowded curiosity, would be stupefied in admiration of her unapproachable beauty. Moving a right hand to their mouths with the forefinger resting on an outstretched thumb, they revered her as though she were Venus herself in religious adoration.” Multi denique civium et advenae copiosi, quos eximii spectaculi rumor studiosa celebritate congregabat, inaccessae formositatis admiratione stupidi et admoventes oribus suis dexteram primore digito in erectum pollicem residente ut ipsam prorsus deam Venerem religiosis <venerabantur> adorationibus. (Golden Ass, 4.28)
It doesn’t go so well for Psyche, being compared to Venus. The goddess sets her son Cupid on the beautiful by hapless girl, but he ends up falling in love with her. Adventures ensue, jealous sister are involved, an obligatory trip to the Underworld. It all works out in the end for Cupid and Psyche. I have to think that, with his knowing look, Winking Chef understands it all.