Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Interview with Christina Tosi, 2010 FCI Outstanding Alumni Awards recipient for pastry

“Most of the items we serve at Milk Bar are made from ingredients we have lying around in our kitchen. I love making flavored milks by steeping toasted items over spans of time—something that I learned [to do] and loved to do while [working as] a pastry cook at wd~50.” —Christina Tosi

Christina Tosi is the executive pastry chef of Momofuku Milk Bar and the 2010 Outstanding Alumni Award recipient for pastry. In a recent interview, Christina gives an exclusive scoop inside her professional life after graduating from The FCI in 2004 from the classic pastry arts program.

She took the traditional route of college to appease her parents before coming here. Once she “finished college, it was crystal clear she couldn’t face a conventional profession.” Something many students can relate to and have come from a far to study at the school for the same reason. Christina made her way to NYC to study amongst the best at The FCI.

I asked her, "How did you come up with the idea for cereal ice cream?"

"Cereal milk was something I had in the back of my head for a few years, and it came out just right when I was playing around with it one night in Ssäm Bar's basement, while desperately looking for dessert inspiration.” By the way, if you haven’t tried the cereal milk soft serve, you must make a trip over to Momofuku Milk Bar and get a cone or cup…and bring some friends. Another great treat is the Corn Cookie. Christina has always had a sweet tooth and is known for never drinking any type of milk straight up (that includes any soy milk varieties). The only way you can get her to drink a glass of milk is by infusing the liquid with Lucky Charms or any other childhood cereal favorites. Her now famous cereal milk is a good result of this process.

Cereal Milk soft serve ice cream with assorted topping

The New York Times's T Magazine named her as one of their “The Nifty 50” and said her Compost Cookie recipe resulted from a “happy mistake." Some of her dessert ideas come from recycling reusable pantry items or incorporating foods that are already made. Somehow she has a gift of resurrecting ingredients that most folks would allow to go stale and eventually discard. Not Christina. Her biggest inspiration is Wylie Dufresne, whom she met while working at wd-50. Christina says, “I think a lot of what I draw from is a combination of Wylie’s influence, how to think about food and apply flavors and science and applicative thought to food, and what I've learned from the old gals in my family: the waste not, want not type of mentality, where [surplus] cereal goes into the cookies that are baked for every occasion; standard pantry items are made into breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert. It’s all in the craft and creativity of it for them.”

Compost Cookies

You can describe her culinary aesthetic as comfort foods on steroids. Some of her favorite foods are Lucky Charms and, “Campbell’s Soup with grilled cheese, the ultimate symbol love and home, grandmas, moms, boyfriends—it always tastes so damn good”.

Whether she’s listening to oldies, reggae, Bob Dylan, or Neil Young, you will find her immersed in conjuring up the next Sunday Funday inspired dessert wearing a vintage scarf and apron. When I asked her who created the signature Momofuku Pastry look, her response was, “Ha! I think being in a kitchen is all about personality and personal identity and flair amidst a sea of white porter shirts and an army of checkered canvases. In kitchens outside of the city where the dress code isn’t enforced, signature looks are all the rage. You have to love the food you’re making, and wearing something that helps remind you you’re you really makes a difference.”

Outside of the kitchen, typical civilian garments include mostly “old lady stuff.” That entails “old lady dresses, or jeans with old lady blazers or blouses and old lady belts.” She recommends reading “Joy of Cooking, the older the edition the better. It’s got an immense wealth of food story, history and knowledge in it. I could read or bake from it for hours. I love to bake from it and put a twist on whatever recipe I’ve fallen in love with at that moment.”

Christina is originally from Virgina. She is down-to-earth, approachable, and her food could describe her personality. When she’s not at work, you’ll find her wearing old lady clothes, bartering clothes for cookies, or hanging out with friends and indulging in comfort foods. Aside from Crack Pie and other notable sweets, you will find a new addition of truffles—some that resemble remnants of confetti sprinkles. Her desserts bring out the big kid in all of us.

assorted cake truffles (clockwise from top, left): apple pie cake, chocolate malt cake, birthday cake, and banana cake

A Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook is in the works and will be released later on in the Fall of 2011.

Rina Oh is an evening student in the classic culinary arts program and is a contributing writer on Eat Life FCI, The Hot Plate and Food2. When she's not working as a food writer or stylist, she continues developing content for her gossip blog, dining with outlaws, and illustrating a comic book series called
The Gastronomic Chronicles.

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