Christina Tosi is a James Beard award winning pastry chef and the backbone of Milk Bar, the dessert and snack branch of Momofuku, David Chang’s celebrated restaurant group. This paper got a sweet deal when Tosi indulged us with an interview, where she told us if there is such a thing as inferior cookie dough and “off-menu” treats created especially for this month’s upcoming Father’s Day.
Samantha Lim: You’ve come a long way since the dessert spot was first established in a laundromat next to Ssäm Bar, East Village. What are some sweet memories you have of those earlier days?
Christina Tosi: I know! Can you believe it? I have the fondest memories of that time. Don’t get me wrong, it was the hardest work I’d ever faced. Days or weeks of 1-2 hours or no sleep at all... Continuing the dessert programs at Ssäm Bar, Noodle Bar and Ko [three other eateries in the Momofuku restaurant group] while trying to open and run a bakery... Our team was so tiny then. We did everything ourselves; we wore every hat from facilities manager to FOH manager to kitchen manager, purchasing, receiving, and bookkeeping. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into and we had this purity of intention. There were no boundaries because we did not yet know our boundaries. We’ve grown tremendously as bakers, managers and people in the past five years. It has been an unbelievable journey.
SL: Congratulations on having won “Rising Star Chef” from the James Beard Foundation! How did you, your team and loved ones celebrate after last year’s sweet success?
CT: We were so honored to receive such a prestigious award. We’re very hard working but also pretty bashful. We celebrated, certainly, but we tend to keep our heads down, keep working, and keep pushing ahead. That’s the real celebration — continuing to push ourselves and one another to grow, become better, and to contribute even more to the team and the food industry as a whole.
SL: Most of the goodies at Milk Bar have a noticeably pleasant hint of umami. Although the mix of sweet and salty flavors has become a trend in the culinary world, I’ve met a few people who aren’t accustomed to it. Have you received surprised reactions or dubious feedback on this note?
CT: The flavors of Milk Bar and Momofuku are loud! There is certainly a balance of sweet and salty in our confections, and a depth of flavor profile we hold ourselves to. Just as there are pastry chefs who swear off unsalted butter, there are those who live and die by it (that’s me) and there are pastry chefs who believe salt in pastries is sacrilege. I think there’s plenty of room and respect in the food world for it all! Controversy is not always a bad thing...
SL: Everyone’s got a soft spot, and word goes round that yours is cookie dough. Would you say that all cookie dough is pretty much wonderful or is there such a thing is inferior cookie dough?
CT: Ha! Cookie dough is my soft spot, and depending on my level of desperation, I will pretty much take any cookie dough in happily! There are certainly ranges of cookie dough based on the ratio of butter: sugar: salt: flour, et cetera. We take cookie dough in our kitchen very seriously, but when it comes to my late night snack, I will take anything close to cookie dough form!
SL: I read the most recent issue of Lucky Peach and really enjoyed the travel log of you and Roy Choi traipsing around Hawaii. What are some travel experiences that have inspired your baking?
CT: It would be easiest to say Italy! Or Thailand! But to be honest, I’ve found inspiration from even the most obscure trip to Abu Dhabi, a day at the beach in Montauk, and a family reunion in Ohio. Good food is good food, and inspiration for it and from it can be found anywhere and everywhere (that’s the best part!).
SL: Say you win a free year’s supply of desserts from one Brooklyn bakery/ice creamery/donutery/you get it. Which place would that be?
CT: Dough’s donuts or Oddfellows’ ice cream. Ideally, both.
SL: It looks like Milk Bar is presently offering some exclusive “off-menu” desserts for Father’s Day. Tell me about the “Man-hide” Molasses-Rye Cookie and the Pretzel Cake that you think dads will especially enjoy?
CT: The “Man-hide” cookie is our “manliest” cookie! It’s a take on a gingersnap with caraway and rye notes in place of ginger. Most dads are sweet tooths, but don’t want a big, pink strawberry lemon cake, so we thought it would be fun to offer some limited edition flavors that appeal to dad’s favorite snacks like the pretzels in our pretzel cake!
SL: Whose amazing idea was it to hold Milk Bar’s weekly cake walk — a spin on musical chairs where customers compete to win free cake — and do you ever dance in your kitchen?
CT: We dance in our kitchen pretty much every chance we get (we take playlists and music choice very seriously). I grew up loving cake walks at school fairs and block parties and really wanted to find a way to have Milk Bar be more of bakery that’s part of the community in our stores’ neighborhoods (such as Carroll Gardens). I thought the cake walks would be a great way to share who we are through a little shimmy and shake!
Momofuku MilkBar [382 Metropolitan Ave. in Williamsburg (347) 577–9504, www.milkbarstore.com]. Mon.–Wed. 9 am–11 pm, Thurs.–Sun. 9 am–midnight. [360 Smith St. in Carroll Gardens (347) 577–9504]. 7 am–10 pm.
©2013 Community News Group
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