Writing food safety plans seems an odd start to a Michelin starred career but that’s exactly where flavour frontrunner Christina Tosi began her culinary career.
“I guess he [superstar Momofuku chef David Chang] saw some kind of ‘push’ or ‘promise’ in me beyond HACCP plans!” she laughs. “When Dave offered me the ‘office’ job, I just jumped and said ‘sure’, then I worked my heinie off for everything else.”
With a series of desserts and savouries inspired by nostalgic and entirely unexpected flavour combinations to her name, Christina is at the helm of an operation that’s been hailed as “one of the most exciting bakeries in the country,” according to Bon Appetit She’s also of Momofuku Milk Bar, the dessert branch of the restaurant group that has mouths salivating and tongues talking the world over.
Although Christina studied maths and foreign languages at university, it was her summer holidays spent running a bakery that revealed her true calling, the seeds of which were sown during her childhood.
“I was an infamously picky eater as a child, but also had an infamously sweet tooth. My mother stopped allowing me to only eat dessert so I stepped into the kitchen to teach myself my favourite desserts. I loved it so much, I decided to make it my profession,” says Christina.
So moving to New York she enrolled at The and learned the art of being a pastry chef. She took a post at French restaurant. But unhappy with her career progression, Christina was taking time off when David asked for help with his hazard plan. That rolled into a range of other admin tasks, and somewhere amid the bookkeeping and payroll, he challenged her to create desserts for his restaurants. So she did. And when the chance to open a separate Momofuku dessert bar materialised with the extension of out the back, Christina was ready to leap.
The collaboration between Christina and David has yielded some noteworthy results and she’s in good company – since the inception of Christina’s dessert programand Momofuku Ss. Sixbranded Milk Bars have sprung up across New York and another satisfies sugar cravings in Toronto. In the meantime, Christina picked up the (which 6) and is a regular guest on foodie TV shows. If fact, she’s become a recognised authority on all things dessert – most recently, Christina was credited with triggering a craze for pared-back, icing-less wedding cakes so that the layers and flavours of the exposed-edged cakes were the “visual stars”.
But the most spectacular unions at Milk Bar are the desserts themselves. Pretzels, potato chips, coffee, oats and butterscotch make the glorious treat that is the famous Compost Cookie; fried apple pies with sour cream ice-cream are paired with toasted miso; and cereal milk (which is said to taste identical to the leftover milk after you finish a bowl of cornflakes) is the basis for a suite of sweet treats.
“I think cereal milk is so beloved because it’s relatable and fun,” says Christina. “Making a connection with something you eat is what I believe really resonates with people, sparks a memory and keeps us all obsessed with food! Cereal milk is so simple, a little quirky, but gettable, too.”
Yet Christina insists it’s not about quirkiness for quirks sake.
“I don’t push to stay cutting edge. I push to keep it real within myself and within the walls at Milk Bar. I try to teach to never judge, to never worry about what’s hot, what’s not, what’s upcoming, what’s on trend. I don’t believe you can truly create with those things in mind.”
It’s this thinking that’s led to the popularity of Milk Bar’s flavour alchemy which has seen Cereal Milk, Compost Cookies and Crack Pie (first created as a dish for staff at wd~50 and named for its addictive buttery filling) .
But Christina’s not reserved about the hard work it’s taken.
“We have plenty of failures in our recipe testing and innovation sessions. It’s usually less the flavour combos and more the technique and delivery of the idea. I think my biggest heartbreak was when I just couldn’t get an American cheesecake with a saltine cracker crust and green tomato sorbet to work out.”
In an industry of meteoric rises and falls, the purely gastronomic nature of Christina’s biggest heartbreak suggests her rose-coloured love affair with Milk Bar still has a lot of love to give. And just like any relationship, she says her Milk Bar journey is still a work in progress.
“I’m proud of going for it. Of keeping it real, knowing who I am and standing behind it. Building Momofuku’s dessert program, building Milk Bar. Getting to do it every day with an amazing group of hard bodies that I love and respect dearly. Building every new day together.”