I’m still in shock, guys.
I managed to weasel my way into getting an interview with Christina Tosi.
Every time I say that, I do a double take. She has long been a source of inspiration and recipes for me. Her book, Milk Bar, is a wealth of ideas, and chock full of helpful hints (hello, 10 minute creaming? Best. Cookies. Ever.).
The pages of my cookbook are dusted with flour and occasionally stuck together with butter and bits of caramel. (Savin’ dat for later.)
Confession time: I read Milk Bar. Read as in, sit down with a cookie and read each and every recipe blurb and recipe. I don’t know how many times I’ve done this. It’s at least fifty. I still laugh at all of the jokes and funny memories written between those pages.
Thus far, I’ve only found one teeny-tiny typo. (This coming from someone who scours the Sunday NYT for typos and who usually finds one on the front page of the Style section…) Color me impressed.Sigh. I’m star struck.
The not-so-photogenic pie you see in the photos was the famed crack pie. What a fabulous recipe! My god, it’s like buttery gold. Worth every single calorie.
Without further ado, here’s the interview.
(I’m not including the recipe for crack pie as I want to encourage those who have any mild interest to purchase the book… Honestly, it’s one of the more useful and inventive cookbooks I own, and while it is no encyclopedia of baking, it still manages to pack in plenty of information and sugar. You can find the recipes online, I’m sure, but I for one am a proponent of cookbooks.)
Chef Christina Tosi is the pastry chef of the Momofuku line of restaurants, which are owned and run by Chef David Chang; she herself runs the Momofuku Milk Barline of restaurants. Her cooking style is self-described as “loud, delicious, textural, and fun.” She is a genius when it comes to flavor pairings; she invents combinations like thai tea, lemon, and marscapone, or celery root and white chocolate, which are surprising and arresting in a most delicious sense. In 2012, the James Beard Foundation named her Rising Chef of the Year; she was the only pastry chef in the category!
Rachel Sally: I think of you as America’s favorite pastry-chef-next-door, and as such, you have a huge influence on food trends; who or what do you view as your biggest influences?
Chef Christina: I think working in a broad range of bakeries, restaurants and food settings and situations really shaped me as a whole. I approached every job, even the ones I worked at for free as an opportunity to learn. Also, my grandmas, the sweet toothed ladies that recognized my love for baking and my genetic sweet tooth!
R.S.: Which cookbook or book has influenced you the most?
C.T.: The Magnolia Cookbook was one of my first favorite cookbooks as a teen when I was getting into the kitchen on my own terms. They had so many versions of cheesecake in there, breaking all the rules, adding whatever flavors and textures they wanted. I thought it was the coolest cookbook, and the best way to approach a classic like the cheesecake with reckless abandon!
R.S.: What one word would you use to describe yourself and your cooking style?
C.T.: Soothing with a sense of humor.
R.S.: Do you work well under pressure?
C.T.: I love working under pressure. I love being in just a little over my head. It’s how I function best. If you don’t like the same, you probably won’t like working at Milk Bar, but my feeling is if you can make IT happen under pressure, the sky is the limit.
R.S.: Where do you find inspiration for flavor combinations?
C.T.: Everywhere and anywhere. The grocery store, the bodega on the way home. The dinner around the corner. Magazines, airplanes, fancy restaurants, Dairy Queen, T.V. You never know when inspiration can strike!
R.S.: What is the most underrated flavor combination, in your opinion?
C.T.: Salt and pepper.
R.S.: What one ingredient could you not live without?
R.S.: What is your favorite food?
C.T.: Depends on my mood. I’d say this winter it’s acorn squash with butter, cinnamon and breakfast sausage!
R.S.: What is your favorite composed dessert that you’ve ever made?
C.T.: Cereal milk panna cotta with avocado puree, chocolate hazelnut, cornflake crunch. [Editor’s note: Ohmagah]
R.S.: How do you respond to negative criticism in regards to a dessert?
C.T.: I take every opinion seriously and to heart. Not in a negative way, but in a double check myself way. Is there truth in the comment, is there something wrong, could it be better, do I really stand behind this dish or dessert? Humility and the ability to curb your ego, especially when under criticism, are very important.
R.S.: What tweaks do you make?
C.T.: Doesn’t mean you have to change a thing. Just means you have to be open and willing to check yourself and/or stand up for yourself.
R.S.: Do you edit already existing and successful desserts?
C.T.: We always edit existing desserts.
R.S.: Why do you?
C.T.: [We] always look for room for improvements, updating inspiration points. Sometimes we change elements, depths of flavor. Sometimes we’ll test a ton of stuff and never change a thing.
R.S.: What is your best tip for dessert success?
C.T.: Stay true to yourself, your taste buds, your inspiration, your approach. But be open minded about feedback and criticism.
Still in disbelief. Thank you, Chef!