Chef Chat: Christina Tosi
New York has a sweet spot for Tosi’s whimsical treats and, given her recent nomination, the James Beard Foundation does, too.
April 29, 2011
It comes as no surprise that Momofuku Milk Bar owner and pastry chef Christina Tosi, who regularly snacks on frosting, cookie batter and cereal milk, is as sweet and charming as the childhood throwback treats she bakes. She’s basically Julia Roberts with a whisk. When asked about being the only pastry chef nominated in the James Beard Foundation Awards’ Rising Star Chef category, Tosi first admits to being emotionally dumbfounded and then adds, “I just want to share it with everyone and anyone that’s worked so hard doing what they’re passionate about, because everyone that makes sacrifices and cares that much deserves to feel exactly this way.”
A graduate of the French Culinary Institute, Tosi worked pastry at Bouley and wd~50 before taking up with David Chang and building her Milk Bar empire (three NYC shops and a commissary in Brooklyn). Here, Tosi talks about the nomination, a typical day in her Brooklyn pastry lab and the absurdly delicious combination of French fries and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
How did you hear the news of your nomination?
CHRISTINA TOSI: John Currence texted me congratulations. He’s just about one of my favorite people in the world; a true Southern gentleman, host and chef. At first I wasn’t sure what in the world he was talking about, then screeches of excitement came out of our Milk Bar office in Brooklyn.
What does the nomination mean to you?
CS: I take it as a source of motivation and reward for each employee at Milk Bar and for everyone at Momofuku. I take it as a challenge for us to remain who we are, stay humble, but honest, focused and to keep doing what we love.
The menu at Milk Bar is very whimsical and recalls a lot of favorite childhood sweets. What was your favorite sweet as a child?
CS: Cookie dough. Any kind. Any time. Any place. My gram’s oatmeal cookie dough was my cookie dough of choice.
What inspires your cooking? Any ideas you're kicking around now?
CS: Food with soul. Places and things with soul and a story. Things that taste good—really good—which usually means familiar flavors or familiar textures. We take inspiration from family meal or what grandma used to make at family reunions, or our favorite snacks. We’re playing around with an even larger more consistent savory bread program, toasted to order at the Milk Bars; delving more into our savory side.
What's a typical day overseeing all three Milk Bars like for you?
CS: It’s great because everyday is different. We talk about more Milk Bars! We talk about the menus at the current Milk Bars. We recipe test, have contests scooping cookie dough, organize photos for the cookbook, taste five different versions of a possible pork bun, have a dance party, dig to find new ways to inspire and motivate our staff at the Milk Bars, remind them they’re family, teach them how to do anything and everything; to push, to be the best version of themselves, be a real teammate. A typical day is leading by example and exuding the passion behind this job on as many levels as possible; that and making sure that nothing goes up in a ball of flames. I moved to this city because I was once a night owl and living in the city that never sleeps seemed like the perfect place for me. I now live in a world where Milk Bar never sleeps and it’s the most exciting time of my life.
In the dessert arena, what's your favorite it's-so-bad-it's-good guilty pleasure?
CS: Um, I’ve got an arsenal but I’ll try to edit it down: cake mix/batter; raw brownie batter, or just slightly warmed in the microwave; underbaked cookie dough; a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in bed, with or without French fries dipped in it; graham crackers layered with canned funfetti frosting; a spoon of frosting.