Ever since Momofuku Milk Bar opened over two years ago, pastry chef Christina Tosi has delighted New Yorkers with her clever and nostalgic sweets. We talked to the 2011 Rising Star Chef of the Year Award nominee about her path to Momofuku, her favorite New York eats, and her first memory of getting a sugar high.
JBF: How did you come to work for David Chang?
CT: I had just finished as a pastry cook at wd~50. Dave needed some help writing a HACCP plan for sous-vide cooking, and since we had just successfully been approved for our plan at wd~50, Wylie sent me to help out his bud. Dave ended up hiring me as his et cetera gal, basically to fill in the holes of his growing crew. I recognized the opportunity to be a part of a one-of-a-kind team, and I love me a good challenge. I was not hired to be a pastry chef, to work pastry, or to make desserts in any capacity.
JBF: When did you know you wanted to be a pastry chef?
CT: I was born with sweet teeth. Somewhere in between summers working temp jobs as a secretary and studying my butt off to get through college as quickly as possible, I realized I was never going to have or want a real job, and that I wanted to do what made me happy, which was eat sweets all day long and make sweets all day long, though I've since found a love for the savory as much as the sweet.
JBF: What are your favorite places to eat in the city? Any particularly good desserts to be had in New York at this moment?
CT: I usually eat/snack at home and then crush a pint of ice cream or some brownie batter in bed. I love to eat out, but I don't get to that often. When I do, it's usually quick and/or comfortable. I love Caracas, a sandwich from Russo's, or a Crif dog (or corn dog) with cheese fries. I would eat at Noodle Bar every night if I could, or wd~50 every other night. I love the composed desserts the guys at wd~50, Del Posto, and Le Bernardin are doing right now. I do go into bakeries and places that might be similar to Milk Bar and try to order everything (a trait I think I got from Dave). I try to just enjoy it and never compare it to what we do at Milk Bar. I want to just let what we do be unfettered by comparisons and let us be us, whether it's the same or different from what others are doing.
JBF: What’s your favorite item on the Milk Bar menu right now?
CT: It really depends on my mood! I almost always get a heaping bite of cereal milk ice cream with corn-flake crunch while I'm running in or out. I’m really into our savory croissants, especially the one with pastrami, rye, and Russian dressing. The bagel bomb gets me every time. I have rotating love affairs with each cookie. And I'll sneak a cake truffle any time we have extras. I think it must be like having several children. You love them all the same.
JBF: What’s your favorite cookbook and why?
CT: I love Joy of Cooking—always have. I get lost in it and its history of American food and the hilarity of how we once prepared recipes. I grew up in Virginia as a very picky eater and missed out on so many cultural nuances to quirky American staples. I often use it as a starting point or a source of consultation when looking for direction for something new to the menu.
JBF: What’s your earliest food memory?
CT: I can't remember which food memory came first, but I do remember being a chubby little girl with a bowl cut, very picky, but always hungry. I can remember a gooey butter cake—did my grandma or my mother make it? That and under-baked sugar cookie bars with cinnamon sugar, made in a pan. Those were the two moments I realized I could never live without dessert. I also remember eating oozy, sandy, and stinky blue cheese with my dad late one night on the couch.