If there was a queen when it came to all things sweet, Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar would no doubt get the crown. This incredibly talented baker is as sweet as the treats she dreams up and has plenty to say on how sweet is too sweet, overrated ingredients, and what it's like being a woman in the culinary industry.
From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day?
As someone that works around sweets all day, how do you manage to stay healthy and be balanced?
It’s all about being as active in a day as the food you fuel yourself with. If I eat a ton of cookies one day, I’m definitely on my feet bouncing around; I may even sweat it out on a run. I'll also try to eat something green at some point in the day…
In terms of baking, what ingredients are overrated?
I love creating with limitations. I’m a butter, sugar, vanilla, and chocolate chip kind of gal. I don’t really prescribe to the school of bacon in my baked goods, or the fancier, high-end products. I think it is more rewarding to create something new out of basics.
Is there such a thing as too sweet?
That’s a tough one! I’d say there is such a thing as something being out of balance on the sweet scale. I don’t do sweet for sweet. Sugar, like salt and acid, is all about how it balances in a perfect bite.
How do you go about starting your day on a good note?
I love to listen to music when I brush my teeth and pick out my outfit for the day. I hit the pavement and walk or skip with my dogs to work, where the promise of a strong cup of coffee isn't far off!
Do you have morning and nightly beauty routines? If so, what are they?
My routine is pretty simple, not very fussy. I think of my skin as always being thirsty, so I’m big on moisturizer. I always wear sunscreen, too. I have super straight hair naturally, so I wash my hair at night and sleep with it wet so it gains a little volume and wave while I sleep.
What's your favorite Milk Bar go-to right now?
I eat something different every day to keep me on my toes and keep my snacking interesting and intentional. They’re all my babies, but I’m pretty smitten with the grasshopper pie these days!
As a kid, did you always prefer sweet over salty?
YES! I don’t think I got into the sweet/salty game until I was a teenager.
What were you favorite sweets when you were growing up?
Sugar Babies warm out of my mom’s purse on a hot summer day.
Were there recipes your mom used to cook that you reinvented or make now?
Gooey butter cake was my mother’s go-to. The crack pie [that we make] is largely based on it.
What advice do you have for chefs and bakers starting out?
Mean it from the bottom of your heart. Mean it when no one is looking, at the 23rd hour of the day (some days in this business are that long!). You will need that drive, that determination, and that passion to carry you on your way.
You constantly keep your sweets innovative. Do you think baking is all about reinventing and refurbishing classics? Can it also just be about perfecting a classic?
For me, innovating means being inspired by classics and understanding how to innovate rather than be influenced. I choose to innovate and evolve while paying homage to the classics, rather than compete by trying to directly improve a classic recipe (there isn’t much room for it anyhow!).
What advice do you have to women starting out in the food world?
Don’t think of yourself as man or woman. Think of yourself as a member of the industry and community, and give more back than you ever might take.
As a female chef who is widely recognized and respected, do you buy into the "women in food" discussions that can become controversial? Should more women in the industry be recognized?
I think recognition in this industry, irregardless of whether you’re a man or woman, is tricky. I know a number of wickedly talented male chefs that struggle for recognition just as much as any talented females. I have always thought of myself as a cook and a chef first — never a female first — mostly because that’s not what defines who I am when I’m in the kitchen. Who I am as an individual that creates is what defines me when my apron is on. I encourage anyone who feels they are struggling for recognition and respect to do the same (but be sure you’re not in the game in search of either recognition or respect).
We love that you collaborated with a favorite model of ours (Karlie Kloss) on a cookie (that also happens to be one of our favorites). What was that process like?
That’s my girl! Karlie had an amazing vision: to create a cookie that’s great for you and gives to you while giving back. We’re the crazy bakers who took on the challenge of making a cookie so good you don’t even realize it’s good for you! We love to eat cookie dough, giggle and bounce around like silly girls, get serious like business women, and talk about how the nurturing spirit behind the simple act of baking can make a difference.
What’s always in your fridge and why?
Eggs, cheese and yeast. I can make any highbrow or lowbrow snack or late night meal out of the [former] two, with the help of some pantry staples (flour, grains, oils, onions, and potatoes).
What’s a go-to recipe you love to cook at home?
Arepas, nachos, or quesadillas!
Who is the one person you’d like to see walk into Milk Bar?
Neil Young (he’s my ultimate man crush!).
What are your favorite cities for food and where do you go in each?
In the same vein as "what is the new black" in fashion, what is "the new potato" in baking?
Smoking! Oats, milk, butter, flour. and any staple pantry items take on awesome depth and flavor profile when smoked. It brings curiosity and surprise to any classic baked good!