IN CONVERSATION WITH: Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi
Christina Tosi’s genius Crack Pie isn’t the only thing this pastry pusher has us addicted to. The Momofuku Milk Bar founder and self-dubbed overachiever is an inspiration in and out of the kitchen. That’s why we can’t wait to have her at STORY this month, where the James Beard Award winner (twice!) and cookbook author will talk desserts and so much more—like traveling, the world’s best butter and how she’s become the incredible chef that she is!
Join us for Fresh Talks with Christina Tosi on July 24th and check out our interview below for the inside scoop!
You studied electrical engineering. How did you end up becoming a pastry chef?
Loving to bake it’s probably no surprise I’m a very curious scientist at heart. I also LOVE math. Unreasonably so. I’m a VERY competitive person so I went off to college ready to crush one the trickiest fields—engineering. I quickly realized that I loved the math portion most and preferred to save the science for the butter, sugar and cake pans at home.
I changed my major to Italian and math, sprinting home every day after class to bake, bake, bake. I took as many classes possible and graduated in three years, knowing good and well that I was destined for the big, bright lights and intensity of NYC, only not behind a desk, but rather, behind a 140-quart mixer.
Funny thing is that in starting and building Milk Bar, I realized what I’ve always known: I’m a very right brain-left brain person. I celebrate the engineer, the mathematician and the pastry chef in every part of my day-to-day. Though bringing creativity into the kitchen is my obvious sweet spot, I love to bring the rational left brain too. And to the office and board room at Milk Bar, though I bring an astute business acumen, I always push myself and my team to bring the right brain creative juices too. That’s what makes what we do in the kitchen and as a business so exciting, so special, so unstoppable. We bring every part of what we do to every single day.
Were you always interested in food?
I was an infamously picky eater as a child, but also had an infamous sweet tooth—all I wanted was dessert for every meal of the day. My mother stopped allowing me to only eat dessert so I stepped into the kitchen to teach myself my favorite desserts. I loved it so much, I decided to go to culinary school and make it my profession!
What’s your favorite ingredient to work with and why?
I love the simple ingredients most: flour, sugar, salt, eggs. The most accessible, down-to-earth ingredients are those that test and show your skill and imagination best. Creating something out of nothing is our constant pursuit at Milk Bar. Using the humblest ingredients to make something into a powerhouse of flavor, emotion, connectivity is always our goal.
That said, I can be a little bit of a snob when it comes to butter. High quality unsalted, European-style butter. Your average grocery store butter will do fine, every time, but we invest in the best of the best because it makes every recipe taste like the deepest, most delicious version of itself. We spend an insane amount of money on GREAT butter. You can taste it and it makes all the difference!
Who inspires you?
The Milk Bar team inspires me daily. Though Milk Bar is my brainchild, I could not do it alone. We are a family, a tribe of diversity, but of like-minded people who love to love life. Our team comes from all walks of life. We love individuality. Everyone has a love for food, a passion for hard work, a heart full of integrity. We’re up for anything, and never more than five seconds away from cracking a joke. We love to create and challenge the norm and live life on our own terms. We have a family in one another, we push each other daily to be better than the day before. I am who I am and Milk Bar is what it is because of our undying sense of team and the individual players that make it happen each and every day.
Favorite NYC restaurant or bar?
I’m a bit biased 😃. The Nomad Bar and Made Nice are my home away from home, my favorite food and people to spend time with on any and every occasion. Mark Welker, the Executive Pastry chef is also a force to be reckoned with—from insane pastries to killer Milk & Honey ice cream.
Any hidden talents?
I am a handywoman! Building an empire, you’ve got to be a great bootstrapper, which means teaching yourself the masterful arts of a plumber, electrician, painter, architect and more. I love knowing and understanding the way things work, and knowing how to fix anything and everything.
What are you most proud of with Milk Bar?
I’m proud of going for it. Of keeping it real. Knowing who I am and standing behind it. Getting to do it every day with an amazing group of hardbodies at Milk Bar that I love and respect dearly. Building every new day together. We’ve created trends the have changed the face of food from cake truffles to naked layer cakes to cereal milk flavored everything to a soft-serve revolution. It’s inane to consider that WE did THAT!
One item always found in your refrigerator?
Sparkling water and green juice (usually a few Hardbody jugs). Staying hydrated is my secret. I eat on the go more often than not, and if I’m cooking at home, I’m going to the grocery—I never know where my week will take me so I usually just live in the moment!
Any daily rituals?
I meditate every morning, and go for a long run. It’s key to my endurance and my sanity 😃. I also swear by a cup of ginger tea in bed; it’s meditative in its own right and calms my crazy brain before I drift off to sleep.
What can we look forward to you making in the future?
In general, a continuing of a deepening of the brand in the community and for us continuing to understand who we are as we evolve, finding deeper, more meaningful ways to connect with our customer base, whether through opening more stores, more cookbooks, through lifestyle products or TV, by making the right decisions that represent and celebrate us and celebrate the people who love us and our customers. Not saying yes to everything means we’ll continue to be ourselves wrapped into a really exciting brand!
Baking in five words?
Sensibility, balance, innovation, texture, love.
What’s something we couldn’t find out about you from Google?
I’m an overachiever to a fault. I think quirks are what make the world go ’round. I’m a wanderlust through and through, though I’ve worked and lived in the same place for over nine years. I play the ukulele (or more realistically take ukulele lessons) and look at puppies to adopt online in my free time. My grandmas were my best friends (I want to be just like them when I grow up) but I intend to never grow old. If I didn’t live in the city, I’d live in the middle of nowhere on a farm or a ranch. I love that I have everything figured out and I love that I have nothing figured out. I love what I do and know how lucky I am.