As the founder and Chef of Milk Bar (a disciple of the famed Momofuku Noodle Bar), Christina Tosi’s creations are mouth watering and addictive, hence why one of her best sellers is called “Crack Pie.” Here, after launching her cookbook, Tosi breaks down her career path and why, at the end of the day, sugar and laughter go hand in hand.
Life+Times: You’re the chef and owner of Momofuku Milk Bar, which has been called “one of the most exciting bakeries in the country” by Bon Appetit Magazine. When did you realize you had a penchant for all things sweet?
Christina Tosi: I knew at a very early age that my one true soulmate was cookie dough. I was an infamously picky eater and demanded dessert as my dinner nearly every day. The matriarchs in my family were and are big bakers. Once they realized I was eating rather than just tasting the baked goods, they cut me off and I was forced to fend for myself in a survival of the fittest kind of way! The rest is history.
L+T: How did the idea to launch a desert shop make sense? After all, it stemmed out of the famous Momofuku Noodle Bar.
CT: Though I was formally trained via the French Culinary Institute (now the ICC) and worked for years in fine dining restaurants in the city, my personality and style lended itself much more to a more casual, quirky bakery concept. When I first started at Momofuku, my goal was go get dessert in every restaurant. Noodle Bar was the trickiest since the food is so darn good, comes out so darn fast and is gulped down at an insane rate. I had this vision of a soft serve machine. I would make fun flavors with a point of view, and people could grab some on their way out. I was such a hit I decided that the bakery concept with a point of view just had to work and that it also needed soft serve machines!
L+T: If you had to recommend one dessert that all those who walk through your doors must taste, what would it be?
CT: A compost cookie, a slice of crack pie and a cereal milk soft serve with cornflake crunch. Besides the fact that they’re our most popular desserts, I think all three do a great job of sharing our point of view. Loud, delicious, textural, and fun. No too far from something that transports you back to a food memory, just close enough to keep you coming back!
L+T: Your names of your treats are also quite interesting and addictive like cereal milk, compost cookies, and crack pie. How do you come up with these names?
CT: Many of our baked goods have a way of naming themselves. Cereal milk was the only logical name to give this flavored milk that tastes like every kind of cereal, but no cereal in particular. Compost cookies are all about making due with leftovers, giggling all the while. And crack pie was named by friends, upon tasting it for the first time, began spinning around, running around, coming back for more, begging to keep it out of reach, then pleading for another bite!
L+T: When you released your cookbook, what was this process like creatively? What did you learn about yourself throughout the process?
CT: The cookbook was a true labor of love. It stretches (and drains) so many different parts of the brain creatively. I am a long distance runner, but it is a marathon in the truest sense of the word. The instant success of Milk Bar really never left me with much time to reflect and look back to describe its origins, to really try to put into words what we do, how we do it and why we’re crazy enough to wake up each morning to do it even now. The cookbook really helped me understand, embrace and share the past 6 amazing years of my life and my career and get to share it with the world.
L+T: While it’s your job, do you feel you’ve lost sight of the “fun factor” of cooking? How do you keep it relevant?
CT: No way! We make sure to always laugh, poke at each other, eat too much sugar, and race to the finish line every day. We eat out a ton, we read cookbooks, we gut check every item we put on our menu, we taste it 10 times. We keep it relevant by keeping it honest and true to who we are as people, bakers and an undying force of sweet teeth.
L+T: I have to ask, what’s your kitchen like at home?
CT: If you asked me six or eight years ago, I’d laugh and say it’s not much. Now a days, though. I cook and bake a ton at home, just like the good old days before I moved to NYC. I have a slamming line of All Clad cook and bakeware. I cook and bake with what’s in the cupboard, because that’s what keeps me resourceful and keeps the clever, creative juices flowing.
L+T: You have five stores in New York. Could you ever imagine it would expand that much? How does this make you feel?
CT: I had no idea that my dream for a cute little bakery would become what it is today. I am overwhelmed with pride and joy. Much of our drive for expansion was based on the fact that in NYC, you have to sell a lot of cookies to pay the rent. I love hearing stories from Upper Westsiders who are so excited to not have to ride the train all the way downtown for b’day truffles, and Midtowners that can bring a franken pie to work to celebrate a birthday. NYC feels like a quaint little neighborhood to me now a days!
L+T: How do you stay so tiny?
CT: I am moving nonstop from 6 or 7 or 8am until the wee hours of the morning! I love me a good dog walk or bike ride or long run to decompress. Part of my love of eating desserts is balanced with my love for being so active and having a job where I can literally jump around all day!