Chefs@Google: Christina Tosi

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 17.11.2011

>>Male Presenter: All right. Well, good afternoon everyone. Thanks for coming out to see Chef
Christina here. The format today will be--just to give you the rules of the game --we'll
have an awesome talk by Chef Christina in just a moment. And it will be followed by
some Q&A.
So, if you have a question, please go to the mic because we are recording this on YouTube.
So, they need to be able to hear you in the virtual world as well as the real world. But
with that, I'm sure you guys all know why you're here today. Chef Christina is here
from Momofuku Milk Bar from New York City.
You know her for her Compost Cookies, her Crack Pie, her Blueberry Cookies and many,
many other fun and delicious, magically satisfying treats. So, I'm sure you guys do not wanna
hear any more of me. So with that, Chef Christina from Momofuku Milk Bar.
[applause and cheering]
>>Christina Tosi: Hi everybody. Can everyone hear me OK? Awesome. This is an insane turnout.
[laughing] Thank you to everybody for coming. I usually--. We've been doing talks like this.
The book came out on October 25th, so we've been doing this for about two and a half weeks
on tour.
And it's usually a much smaller group. And my first question is always like, "OK, who's
ever been to Momofuku?" Or, "Who owns the Momofuku cookbook?" Or, "Who's been to Milk
Bar?" And every once in a while, you get a hand or two raised and it's fun and it's fun
to know that people came just out of curiosity.
But it's pretty amazing [laughing] to see how many of you came because you know exactly
why you're here. So, I will spare you with those silly questions. So, Momofuku Milk Bar.
Momofuku is this tiny little restaurant group that started in the East Village about seven
years ago by Dave Chang, the chef/owner of the Momofuku restaurants.
There was Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ssäm Bar, Momofuku Ko, which is like a tasting
menu only restaurant. You have to get your reservation online only. Compete for your
seats. Momofuku Milk Bar opened next about three years ago in November. And we also have
Má Pêche, which is in Midtown outside of the East Village.
And Dave recently opened a Momofuku restaurant in Sydney, Australia in the Star City Casino.
And it's going really well. We now have four little bakeries, or four little retail Milk
Bar locations in New York. We have our original East Village location. We have a little location
that is part of Má Pêche in Midtown.
We just opened a spot on the Upper West Side--87th and Columbus near Central Park. And we have
our kitchen in Williamsburg, Brooklyn where we also have a little store. So, hopefully
many of you already own the Momofuku cookbook and you know the history of the Momofuku restaurants
and you know a little bit about Dave and the mentality and the attitude and the passion
behind what we do at Momofuku in general.
I started working at Momofuku about six years ago. I was, I am still, but I was a home baker
growing up. I grew up with a bunch of grandmas and aunts and a mom that really loved baking.
And I also have a very sweet tooth. So, I loved mixing cookie dough and eating it more
so than baking it.
But I started there with my love for baking and all things sweet-- cake batters and frostings
and all of those sorts of things. And I went to college and I studied Applied Mathematics
[laughter] and the Italian language because I loved doing those things. I love learning
and being stimulated and discovering these things.
My mom's an accountant, so I think that's where the mathematics comes into play, but
I ended up graduating from school mostly to appease my parents. And I thought to myself
that none of those things would really fit for me as a profession and that I wanted something
more active and creative and stimulating in this way.
And I feel like you all have figured out a great way to have that in your lives, but
for me, I thought, "I want to work in a kitchen. I want to be a pastry chef. I want to make
what my real passion is into my profession. So, I moved to New York to, sort of, sight-unseen--.
I had only ever been to New York City for three hours once when I was a teenager.
And I just felt this draw to New York. And I thought, "I'm just gonna move to New York
and I'm gonna go to pastry school and I'm gonna be a pastry chef and that's what I'm
gonna do." And it just made sense in my head. So, I just told my parents one day like, "Hey
Mom, this is what I'm gonna do."
And without ever really speaking about it more, like any further beyond that, I just
had it set in my head. So, I did it. And I went to the French Culinary Institute and
I studied pastry arts and I ended up working in a bunch of fine-dining restaurants in the
Six-day work weeks, sixteen-, eighteen-hour days, paid almost nothing because I just loved
it so much. I loved the challenge. I loved learning. I loved that I was making a life
for myself and doing what I really loved to do and that there was no end. Exhaustion was
never really came into mind.
But as I was working in these fine-dining restaurants and working my way up the ranks
of pastry kitchens and pastry departments, I got jumbled up because these fine-dining
restaurants usually are very detail-oriented and they're very precise and they're very--.
I can only ever use the adjective "finicky" because for me in my head, I see it as finicky.
I see these delicate touilles that top a chocolate soufflé as finicky. And six different sauces
and picking herbs and putting them on plate, for my personality, was like I loved the challenge
of it and I loved learning, but for me, it was far too finicky for me.
And so, I started to worry that I would never really actually become a pastry chef and I
would never make it to the top because it wouldn't really be honest to me and it wouldn't
meet my need and my desire for being creative and being in a creative profession that had
my voice.
And so, I stepped out. I ended up stepping out of the kitchen in New York and trying
to figure out what I wanted to do. And I met Dave through Wylie Dufresne, who's the chef
and owner at wd~50 in the Lower East Side. And it was actually the last kitchen that
I worked in as a pastry cook.
And if you're not familiar with it, it's very high-technique, very high, forward-thinking
in terms of food and the presentation of food and pushing boundaries with what you can do
with flavors and techniques and food. And Wylie ended up introducing me to Dave to help
him with this thing called a HACCP plan, which is a Hazard Analysis plan for sous-vide cooking.
If you're not familiar, it's like a large-scale food saver machine called a Cryovac machine
that creates an oxygen-free environment that you can cook in. And the Health Department
in New York City had all of these brand new, very stringent regulations and Dave needed
So, I had taught myself how to write these plans in working at wd~50 as a pastry cook.
And Wylie was just like, "Can you help my friend out?" So, I went and helped Dave out.
And he just offered me a job. He just said, "OK, you know how to do this sort of silly,
dorky, overextended, HACCP planning.
You taught yourself so why don't you just come work for me?" He had Noodle Bar and Ssäm
Bar at the time. He was just starting to break out in terms of his presence in food and in
the food world in New York. And he had a very, very small team of people. And I just said,
"OK. I'll do it."
Because for me, I really didn't think I was gonna make it as this pastry chef. And not
because I wouldn't be able to get there with hard work and determination, but because I
just thought maybe I have it all wrong and I'm just not creative enough or I don't have
that fine-tuned, precisioned attention to detail enough to be this fancy pastry chef.
So, I took the job with Dave because--and I just said, "Yeah. I'll do it. Let's do it.
I'll work for you." And there was no job role. It was very un-kitchen related. It was like,
"OK, well you know how to type on a computer, so how about you do payroll." [laughter] "And
you type faster than me so how about you type some recipes or the bathroom's clogged.
Call the plumber. Figure out how to do it and." And so, I loved that. I loved that challenge.
I loved not knowing what I was doing and figuring it out and I loved knowing that there was
this huge outlet of things for me to learn how to do and to figure how to do it.
And I loved that sort of uphill battle challenge that every day was gonna be different and
every day I was gonna be on my feet. And every day, I was gonna have to find a creative solution.
And that, for me, was--. It met enough of that need of what I wanted to do in a day.
So, I did it. But the thing was, I'd go to work every day and do that and then I'd end
up coming home and baking in my kitchen, home late at night because that was my routine.
It's what I love to do. It was like, no matter how many hours I spent at work doing God knows
what, all I really wanted to do was go home and bake.
And it was my peace and my happiness in my day. So, I would do it and I would go home.
I'd bake. I'd bake one or two or three things and I'd end up just bringing them in the next
day to work, to Dave, and two or three other people that worked at Momofuku at the time,
and feeding them because I couldn't leave it in my kitchen.
Then I couldn't go home and bake again 'cause I wouldn't have an empty pan to bake something
into. And Dave would just gobble it all up. [laughter] And he would always, after a few
days or a few weeks of it, he would joke that, "We should put this brownie or this cookie
or whatever it was that I threw together, on the menu."
Because at the time, Noodle Bar and Ssäm Bar were very, very masculine, driven with
masculinity in loud, loud music, loud flavors environment, but there was absolutely no value
placed on dessert. There wasn't even dessert on the menu, which, even in New York City,
it's strange to have a restaurant where there's no coffee, there's no tea, there's no dessert.
You sit down. The music's playing loud. You order your food. You get it. It comes out
warm. You eat it real fast because it's delicious. You pay your bill and you leave. And so, I
always thought he was joking about--. OK, I did, I just threw together these brownies
at home of like whatever was in my cupboard.
It was more just an exercise of peace at home to bake than it was intentional. And one day
I showed up and halfway through the day, he was gobbling down whatever I had eaten and
he was just like, "Go. Go. Get into the kitchen and make something for dessert tonight because
I don't wanna talk about it anymore.
I'm over it. This is clearly what you love to do. Finish payroll and then go and bake
something [laughter] and we're gonna put it on the menu tonight because I'm over this.
I don't want to talk about it anymore."
And so, I freaked out. A lot. And silently, because there was a show-no-mercy attitude.
That's kitchen mentality in any city. That was sort of how I was raised, too, with the
And I did it. I made a dessert. It was a strawberry shortcake with my own twist on it. It's in
the Momofuku cookbook. And it was fine. No one died. A few people ordered it. A few people
ate it. It was good. So, I came back the next day and did my normal job of whatever it was
that came up.
And then I made it again. And again. And eventually, I ended up putting desserts on the menus at
the Momofuku Restaurants. Little by little, I had my fingerprints on the menus at those
restaurants. And it was one of those "What do you put on the menu at a restaurant that
doesn't serve dessert?"
There's not really any value placed on dessert, but these guys clearly love sweets because
when I bring in these platters of things, they're gone in minutes. And it's that Momofuku
means Lucky Peach in Japanese, but Dave is a Korean-American chef, but we use local ingredients,
but we use French technique.
And sometimes, we put a pasta on the menu. And what in the world do you make for dessert
in those terms? And it's just like, well, all I know about working here is that it's
faced-paced, the flavors are big, they're bold. They're in your face. Everything always
tastes delicious.
It's so delicious that you wanna eat it so quickly and then get up and leave. [chuckles]
And so, I would do whatever I could to make a delicious, flavorful, seasonal thing with
a twist and a personality because that was the only anchor that I had in knowing Momofuku
and in knowing the food of Momofuku and the personalities of Momofuku.
So, I did that for about a year. And it was just me and I would just find whatever space
I had on a prep table in one of the restaurants and just throw as many things together as
I could. And one day, there was a vacant Laundromat next to Ssäm Bar on 2nd Avenue and 13th Street.
And they lost their lease. They were taking all the washers and dryers out. And Dave found
whatever little corner I was occupying on a prep table and ran up to me and said, "The
Laundromat is going out of business. Somebody's gonna move in and take over the space and
run Momofuku out of--.
They're gonna destroy us. They're gonna crumble our empire." Which, of course, is not gonna
But he's has this paranoia about him and this energy about him because of it. And it was
just like, "We gotta get in there. Let's open a bakery. Do you wanna do it?" Like, let's
open this bakery. And this is like, bringing up a concept that had never been spoken about
between the two of us.
I'm sure it was clear that I loved cookies [giggles] and I loved baking cookies. There
was never a cookie on the menu at Ssäm Bar, at Noodle Bar, at Ko, because that just wasn't
the vibe of those restaurants. And I was just like, "Sure. Yeah, sure, I'll do it." In my
head, like every little girl dreams about having a bakery. [laughter]
So, "Sure, I'll do it." And I was like, "I'm serious. Do you wanna do it? If you say yes,
we have to do it right now." And it was like, "Yeah, OK. I said yes. Let's do it."
And so, we just did it. And it was like one of those phone calls home to my mom, or was
similar to, "Hey, so Mom. I'm gonna move to New York City and go pastry school and become
a pastry chef and I'm gonna get on a train tomorrow."
And it was the same sort of thing where it was like, "Hey Mom, I'm gonna open this bakery
and it's gonna open in like a month and I'll tell you when that is" sort of thing. And
then you just do it. And it's being a person of your word and suppressing all of the fear
and doubt and all of those things in your head and just pushing through.
And I like to say we opened the bakery overnight, though it took a little while to renovate
this laundromat into a bakery. But it ended up being this bakery that, in my head, it
makes sense to the way Momofuku and the Momofuku restaurants and the menus are in terms of
food and flavors and curiosities.
But we ended up opening this bakery. And I like to describe it as this quirky bakery
with an American baked goods sensibility, but with a little bit of a twist, or with
a little more personality, because instead of chocolate chip cookies, we sell cornflake
chocolate chip marshmallow cookies.
Or, instead of chocolate chip cookies, we sell compost cookies that have chocolate chips
in them, but they also have butterscotch chips and pretzels and potato chips and coffee grounds
and stuff like that. And making the menu was just making a bunch of stuff that I knew I
loved baking at home or making this cookie dough and then throwing whatever I had in
my cupboard into this cookie dough.
And it made sense in my head. And I was too busy to worry about it not making sense in
anyone else's head. And I sort of got tricked into being this pastry chef that I didn't
know that I was, or that I could be, and I ended up making this menu that I thought,
"I'm just gonna make what makes sense in my head and what's honest to what I love to bake
and what I know how to bake and what I know how to bake for somebody or for a family meal
or what have you."
And it's honest and it feels right and then I'm not gonna worry about anything else. And
so, everything that we sell I think makes sense in our head, though most people ask
how we come up with it or how it came to be. And so, we brought a lot of stuff for you
guys to taste so that you could understand our food beyond--.
Strip it down for you beyond just a cookie. So for me, making this menu for a bakery was
like, "OK, I've been training to be a pastry chef for many years. What do pastry chefs,
where do you start? Do you start with flavor? Do you start with texture? Do you start with
And for me, I would strip it down to my favorite things that I loved making as a pastry cook
in other people's pastry kitchens. And I'm a real creature of texture. I love crunch.
Even if it's not crunch as a texture, it's silky smooth or it's sandy or it's crumby
or what have you.
And so, we started playing around with these crumbs and crunches, which makes sense in
my head, but there are these pops of color and flavor and texture. The cook book is laid
out with these basic techniques and ingredients that we love to use in our kitchen when we
start to bake, when we start to develop our menu and a new recipe.
One of the things that we love making is a crunch and we brought cornflake crunch today.
And it's made with Corn Flakes, so that always makes people smile. And it's a flavor that
most people know and can relate to. And we toss it with some sugar and some salt and
some melted butter and some milk powder.
And we just spread it out on a sheet pan and toast it off in the oven so you get an idealized
version of Corn Flakes or maybe an idealized version of Frosted Flakes, or something like
that. In most pastry kitchens you'll use something like this that has this flavor and texture
and broken down organic nature and you'll use it to just put on the bottom of a plate
to hold a scoop of ice cream so it doesn't slide around on the plate when it goes to
the table.
But for me, I thought, "Well, I wanna make this crunch or this crumb, and what else can
I do with it?" And so, we would just play around with flavors until we got a lot of
fun, different crunches. We make one with Ritz Crackers. We make one with Fruity Pebbles.
We make one with pretzels. It's basically anything that already has a flavor and a texture
that you just crumble up with your hands, butter, sugar, salt, maybe some milk powder.
You bake it off. And then, we'll take these little things, these little snacky items and
we'll see how many places we can put them--on restaurant menus and on our bakery menu.
And we make a Corn Flake, chocolate chip, marshmallow cookie. And it's a chocolate chip
cookie, but we fold this Corn Flake crunch into it and we put these mini marshmallows
in it. And all of a sudden, we have this amped up version of a chocolate chip cookie.
And we'll take this Corn Flake crunch and we'll use it as an ice cream topping. Or,
we'll take it and we'll crunch it down a little bit more and we'll press it into a pie tin
and use it as a pie crust instead of your average pie crust because why not? And I don't
wanna make a pie crust.
I have this great snacky thing. I mean, I personally will just--. We have little cups
to pass around for you guys to taste. But it's good to just throw back or make it into
a trail mix or make it into a granola. And instead of starting off with something like
a pie crust or instead of starting off with just looking at flour, sugar, and butter as
a dough, how can I start from a more creative standpoint?
And then that's my staple ingredient that I use and I see how far I can push it. You
can layer it in a cake for flavor and texture and a visual appeal. And you can play with
the flavor of Corn Flakes. You can play with the flavor of cereal. And you can substitute
it in and out.
And so, we start with these--. Instead of starting with just butter and sugar, instead
of starting with just a cake recipe, we'll start with these crumbs and these crunches
because you're starting from like a platform of something a little bit more creative or
a little different.
Or, you're starting with something that doesn't already exist in everybody else's kitchen.
We make this thing called a Milk Crumb. And it's like a sandy burst of flavor. And in
a lot of pastry kitchens, in savory kitchens, they make them. Sometimes they call them crumbs.
Sometimes they call them sand. It was a very 90s thing with the Adria Brothers. And even
at wd~50, we would make red onion sand and soil. We would make coffee soil. And it's
just this sandy burst of flavor. But when I started menu developing for Milk Bar, I
thought, "I love this technique."
I would stand in the kitchen when no one was looking and just eat these crumbs as my snack.
And I would pour milk over them and eat them as cereal. And so I thought, "Well I'm gonna
take that technique and see what I can with it in terms of flavor that pushes it beyond
what I already know." And again, we would use this and we would drape it over a plate
of foie gras at wd~50 for flavor and for texture.
We'd sprinkle a little down on a plate and put a scoop of ice cream or a quenelle of
sorbet on it. But for me, I thought, "Well, what else can we do with this?" And it's milk
powder. It's milk powder. I don't know if anyone's mom or dad ever used milk powder
and hydrated it with water and made them drink milk as a kid.
I did. [laughs] And it was gross back then, but I thought, "Let's use this milk powder."
Which is a staple in any pastry chef's kitchen because you typically put it in ice cream
to give it more body and flavor. "Let's make an idealized version of what milk should taste
Like, in my head, milk should be sweet and milky and a little savory, but to have this
balance that regular milk doesn't really have. My mom used to make me drink skim milk as
a kid and I hated it. So, I want to take what I think milk should taste like and then make
that into a crumb.
So, it's flour. It's butter. It's sugar. It's milk powder as the dried flavored ingredient
that goes into it. And we put a little white chocolate in here. And then we take this crumb
and we fold it into a cookie dough and we have a cookie called the Blueberry Cream cookie.
I think about milk crumbs and I go, "OK. It's milky. It's creamy."
So then I think about peaches and cream. And then I think about blueberries and cream.
And then I think about blueberry muffin. And then I think about the best part of a blueberry
muffin, which is the tippy top of the muffin where it's a little fudgy and a little crunchy.
And we make it into a cookie. So, we take these milk crumbs and we fold them into a
cookie dough with dried blueberries. We'll also take it and we'll use it in a plated
dessert for one of the restaurants and we'll make a peach sorbet because peaches and cream
makes sense to everybody.
And then we take some graham crackers and we'll blend them down into a puree that we
like to call a ganache 'cause it represents a little bit more texture and body in the
world of cooking and pastry chef-dom. And all of a sudden, you have milk crumbs and
peaches for a peaches and cream element.
And then you have this peach sorbet and this graham cracker ganache and it gives you this
peach cobbler effect. And all of a sudden we're just using the same crumb we use in
so many different things, but we're figuring out how many different places we can re-purpose
it and how creative we can get with it.
We layer it in a pistachio cake that has layers of pistachio cake and lemon curd and these
milk crumbs and pistachio frosting. And it gives a nuttiness and a floralness and this
sweet, milkiness that brings out both and enhances it. It gives it texture and it gives
it a visual pop.
And it makes sense and it's fun and it tastes good. And all of a sudden, we've created five
or six desserts out of two things that we really just like snacking on in our kitchen.
[giggles] We also have a birthday crumb that's sort of like--. Did anybody's mom or dad or
sister or aunt or uncle ever make them a boxed Funfetti cake for your birthday? [chuckles]
For me, that's the best birthday cake ever. And we thought, "OK, we're gonna be this quirky
bakery with baked goods. It's personal to us. We want it to have personality and we
want it to--. All baked goods should feel like home and should be made with love."
And for me, it's like that funny dichotomy of well, this box cake mix that you just add
eggs and oil to, it tastes like home because that's what you make for your kid when you're
trying to raise a family and you wanna make a birthday cake. So, we took our love for
that Funfetti box cake mix and we totally deconstructed it to, "So many people make
this box cake mix from a box.
How about if we figure out how to make it from scratch?" Because those flavors are the
flavors of home and the flavors that you relate to and that you remember and that send this
signal or this eye--. They make your eyes get wider. And how do we make that flavor
from scratch?"
And so, we would take the back of a box of--. We take the Funfetti cake mix home and we
look at the back of the box and just start deconstructing. Like, how are we gonna recreate
these flavors in our kitchen? And we figured out how to remake the cake from scratch.
We figured out how to make frosting that tastes just like it's that shelf-stable canned frosting
[laughter] that you eat through your childhood and through college. And we ended up making
these crumbs out of it as well. And it's the same ingredients that are in a cake, but instead
of making it into a cake with butter and eggs and oil, we make it into a little crumb with
just a little bit of melted butter.
And we'll take it and we'll fold it into a cookie to make a confetti cookie. And we'll
layer it into that birthday cake that we make from scratch for more texture and more flavor.
And we go. That's how we go from there. We start with these crumbs or these crunches.
We make this milk called Cereal Milk and it's meant to taste like what's left in your bowl
after you eat all the cereal out of it, which is a flavor that everybody knows whether it's
made with Lucky Charms or made with Capn Crunch or made with Golden Grahams. Everybody knows
that flavor of milk.
Like, everyone's done that before and so, that's a recipe that we'll start with in our
kitchen and we'll see how many places we can put it. We make it into drinking milk. We
make it into ice cream. We set it with a little bit of gelatin and we make into a panna cotta.
And all of a sudden, we have one simple approach and one simple flavor and we have three or
four new menu items. We'll take this Corn Flake crunch and press it into a crust and
then fill it with Cereal Milk ice cream because it just makes sense. And we're just using
things that are already in our kitchen.
We're using these recipes that are already in our kitchen. So when we went to write the
cook book and tell the story of Milk Bar and how it came to be and the attitude and the
mentality behind it and the sense of humor behind it, we broke it down based on these
recipes which we jokingly refer to as "mother recipes."
And we relate it back to French cooking. And in French cooking you have mother sauces and
it's this well-known principle that if you know how to make these mother sauces, if you
can master these mother sauces in French cooking, they gateway towards mastering French cooking
as a whole is yours.
And these mother sauces are the gateway to mastering everything else in French cooking.
And so, we approach Milk Bar with the same mentality, where it's like, if you know--.
There's Cereal Milk. If you know how to make Cereal Milk, you have this gateway into what
we do at Milk Bar.
Once you get the Corn Flake Crunch down or the Milk Crumb down, you have this world of
desserts opened up to you. And that's how we do it in our kitchen. We get creative by
starting with really creative, staple, pantry ingredients. We make thing called Liquid Cheesecake
because if I were gonna be a fancy pastry chef, I might make blue cheese cheesecake
and serve it with figs or poached pears or something like that.
But I'm not. [laughter] I want under baked cheesecake because that's the best part of
cheesecake for me. It's that little ring in the center when somebody doesn't bake it all
the way and I just wanna spoon that out. So, if I'm gonna be a pastry chef, I know that
cheesecake is a staple thing to pastry chefs, but my cheesecake's gonna be liquid cheesecake
because that's the best part of cheesecake for me.
And I'm not afraid to say it. And it might be a little low brow, but it gets a laugh
and you get it because that's like everyone's dirty little secret. [chuckles] And that's
what we have in our kitchen and that's what we use as our jumping-off point. And that's
how the cookbook is laid out. It's like, we make this liquid cheesecake.
We layer it on this bread dough and make a cinnamon bun pie because if you think about
cinnamon buns, it's bread dough and it's cinnamon and sugar and light brown sugar. And then
you roll it up and then you lather it in cream cheese frosting. So, I'm gonna take this liquid
cheesecake I have and I'm gonna use it to get towards this idea of a cinnamon bun in
a different shape and a different vehicle.
But the flavors are there and they make sense and everyone knows the flavor of a cinnamon
bun. But we make it into a pie with liquid cheesecake. [giggles] And I think that personality
and that sort of honesty about baking and baked goods and pastries is very much the
path that we take when we made Milk Bar at the very beginning and when we're coming up
with new menu items every day.
And that is really important to us. And I think the underlying thing for us is I started
making these desserts at this restaurant where everything's loud and masculine and in your
face. And dessert didn't exist before. And in order for it to be worth my time, it's
not like I want dessert to be the shining star, but damnit, I came to work today and
I worked really hard and I want everything that we serve as a dessert to stand out.
But at a tasting-menu only restaurant when you're already getting stuffed with twelve
courses and the last two courses are dessert, it's like, how do you make your dessert memorable
and how do you make it poignant? And how do you make it stand out? Or, how do you make
people want to remember their 13th and their 14th course when they've been sitting down
and eating for two hours already?
And I think that's always the underlying motivation, the underlying, "check" this is it, we're
done. We're done recipe testing. This is making it to the menu and well, it still needs some
work. And some of our recipes are immediately--. [snaps fingers] They hit you. You have it.
You know you've got it. And other ones are like, we're constantly tasting and testing
because it has to pass that taste test where, even in our kitchen full of cookie dough and
cake batter, you just want to keep going back and eating and munching and almost making
yourself sick because it's got to hit home like that.
And it doesn't have to be a childhood memory and it doesn't have to be a breakfast memory,
but those are things that help strike a chord with people. It makes your eyes open. It makes
you wanna come back for more. It makes you want to beg your friend before they get on
their flight to go the bakery and pick up a bunch of cookies because somehow you have
a relationship with it.
And that's what baked goods are. That's what they are for me. I have a relationship with
oatmeal raisin cookies because my grandma used to make them for me all the time when
I was a kid. And I don't want anybody else's oatmeal raisin cookie. But if there's something
about a dessert that taps in to that cinnamony, sugary, oatmealy, raisony flavors on any level,
I'm sold. I will never forget it because that's how I was raised with baked goods. And that's
for me, what feels like home and what impresses me the most and those are the home run dishes
and those are the things I remember. And it's the same thing with savory food, but we're
in the dessert world and so we're constantly looking at it as a competition on a level
where it's like, how do we tap into that as well?
And it has to be the most delicious thing that anyone's ever ate. Otherwise, it doesn't
make it onto the menu because that takes extra time and it takes extra effort, but that's
how you make a bakery like this and a restaurant group like Momofuku and a dessert program
like we have.
And that is the essence of what we do at Momofuku and what we do at Milk Bar and what you get
in the cook book beyond just the recipes of--. OK, you get the Compost Cookie recipe. I promise.
But you get this personality and this approach and this realness about it where you understand
where it comes from.
And you're one of us. I mean, we let you into our kitchen and our mentality and our point
of view. We tell bad jokes in the book. [giggles] And we break it all down. So, that's what
you're taking home. But I wanna see what kind of questions you guys have because that's
I get a little itchy when it's time to talk, but my favorite part is answering questions
because the dialogue of it I think is really important. So, who has questions? Come on.
>>FEMALE #1: Hi, my name is Julie. I love Milk Bar. I went there like, three years ago.
>>Christina Tosi: Oh, at the very beginning.
>>FEMALE #1: I got engaged near there with my husband and his brother. So, I'm really
connected to the food and everything. So, when I went back recently, your cookies changed
a little bit. So, they were packaged. They tasted different.
The shapes were different. So I wanted to hear you speak a little bit about how growing
and expanding has changed your recipe and if you think it's still--. I mean, it's still
really delicious, but it's different. So we had a different experience going back recently
than we did three years ago.
>>Christina Tosi: Yeah. So, we opened Milk Bar in the East Village three years ago. And
we did all of our baking on site. And it was actually just me and two other people that
opened the bakery and we worked day and night. We had no clue what we were doing.
We just knew that we had a delicious product that we stood behind. And we had very little
resources and very little equipment. And we ended up working from 6AM until two or three
o'clock in the morning for days and days and days and months. And it ended up being such
a huge--.
We baked, we mixed everything on site. We baked everything on site. We sold everything
ourselves. And it ended up being this crazy success, line out the door, from open till
close, from 8AM till midnight we would have a line out the door. And we would kill ourselves
The Compost Cookie. This is everyone's favorite. We would end up mixing this dough so many
times over the course of the day, and scooping it and trying to find room in our small refrigerators
to find a place to chill it before we baked it. And then we would scoop them into paper
bags on the fly while they were still kind of warm in hopes that people were gonna eat
them right away.
And if they didn't, they were gonna grease their bags and break down because we were
so overwhelmed with it. And I think that's what made it such a success at first because
it felt so personal and human.
And it's still very personal to us, but the thing that people forget sometimes with bakeries,
we've had a crash course on not only how to open a bakery, but how to be a business person
on this really weird level that was completely unslated is that you can sell a lot of cookies
to pay your rent in New York City, to pay hardworking people a wage that is not poverty,
where they're not living with six people in bunk beds with bed bugs.
In order to pay people that believe in what you do and what they do an honest wage, you
have to sell a lot of cookies. And we were put in this space because we thought we would
just be this cute little bakery that sold breads and flavored butters and cookies.
And the demand of the business and the cookie sales was so huge that we were all of a sudden
in this small space with this dedicated team that was getting paid next to nothing and
working day in and day out. And it was like, we're never gonna be able to sustain this.
We're gonna kill ourselves trying to make enough cakes and layer them all on this 250
or 300 square foot kitchen space. And we got to the point that we were taking refrigerators
and illegally putting them in portions of where our customers would stand in line and
wait or try and eat and lock them.
And illegally do it through the Health Department because it was like, you're gonna get mad
if I don't have a Compost Cookie. And I'm gonna get mad if I don't have a Compost Cookie
for you, but I don't know how else to do it. And it got to the point that we were shipping
cookies because people want to have cookies on the West Coast if they can't make it to
visit us.
And we got to the point where we just started taking tables out of the bakery for patrons
and we would just start stacking boxes of tins and stuff like that. We had no shipping
area, so we would just be like, "You can't have this table. You cannot eat Crack Pie
at this table because I'm gonna put an ugly tablecloth on it and I'm gonna pack stuff
and send it up."
And all of a sudden, we were affronted with what do we do? And what's important? And what's
our vision? And we ended up being like, "We need a bigger boat. If we're gonna do this,
we need a bigger boat." And we're getting to the point that we're almost selling enough
cookies that we can start to pay people a wage that's just somewhere near honest.
It's not even close to it, but we're to the point where we can provide health insurance
for our employees, which is unheard of in the restaurant industry, especially in New
York. And we have to keep going because we're almost to the point where we can do it all.
We can have it all and we can have lives and we can do what we love. And we ended up getting
a bigger kitchen in Williamsburg. And believe it or not, our cookie recipes haven't changed
at all. We use the exact same ingredients, but the things that have changed are we make
them off site.
And we used to scoop every single cookie by hand, but all of a sudden, we were affronted
with, "Nobody scoops fast enough for me." The test of our kitchen used to be like, "OK,
you can get hired if you can scoop cookies almost as fast as me because I'm gonna love
it more than anyone and I'm gonna be faster than anyone, so I'm gonna scoop scoop scoop."
And then all of a sudden, it was like, "We're gonna need to hire 12 people just to scoop
enough cookies." And so, we had to be smart about our strategy in how we do it. We package
everything, honestly because in New York City, you are not allowed to bake product off site
and send it to another location--.
You're not allowed to bake something on site and send it to another location to sell retail
unless it's packaged and it's labeled with every ingredient and every potential allergy.
And all of a sudden, it's like we love what we do on the same level, but we have to figure
out a way to make a concession here or there so that we can, so everyone can know what
a Compost Cookie is.
And you don't get as big of a bit of a pretzel in it now, but if we write a cook book, then
people can still make it at home and it's still special to us even though it's not.
We're not. We used to be in this 250 square foot space with this small group of five or
six people that would just kill each other, like lifting things up and over and under.
And now, we're in this huge kitchen and it's like, how do we maintain our sense of family
and our passion for it and our love for it? And we still do it every day. And we sometimes
joke that we do not miss that space at all because it was so hard. But we miss it so
much because we know exactly what the places that we had to make the concessions and that
we had to say, "You wanna know what? I am not gonna be here every day to scoop cookies
and to be the only one to scoop cookies."
If I could, I would. But I can't. And we still stand behind what we do.
>>FEMALE #1: Well, thank you for scooping the cookie the day that I was there.
>>MALE #1: Hey, Christina. Thanks so much for coming. Your passion is so obvious to
all of us. You've already actually started talking about this, but I remember I went
to the Noodle Bar the first time and now, every time I hear about you guys, you have
an uptown location and there's a bakery.
You're going to Sydney. And you were already going along those lines, but how do you maintain
this kind of Momofuku sense, like in the passion and all that. 'Cause you guys have grown.
'Cause you guys seem like interminable, right? It's like every time--. There's nothing gonna
stop you guys, right? [laughter]
I mean, the passion is so obvious and the innovativeness is so cool. How do you maintain
that? What is it that keeps you guys special?
>>Christina Tosi: It's really hard. I mean, I think that having a personality and maintaining
your love for it is so important and it's one of those things that no one talks about.
And I want my cookie or I want my bowl of Ramen and I want it now.
And the attitude and the personality behind it is what makes it and what drives it and
what keeps it going. And it's something that we probably spend hours talking about in our
kitchen. In Milk Bar, we spent hours talking about each one of our cooks and each one of
our employees and where they're at and how can we get everyone to contribute and know
that they're part of this family.
And we'll do everything from like, "OK, we're recipe testing or we're menu developing for
the next Momofuku Noodle Bar soft serve flavors. Who has an idea? Fall is coming up. I don't
care if you're a dishwasher. I don't care if you are the one that puts the stickers
on the backs of the bags of cookies.
You're here for a reason and you have and you know Momofuku and you know Milk Bar at
a level. And I'm like, what's next? You tell me. How are we gonna do this together and
how are we gonna drive it together?"
And I think creating that sense of family and care and being like, if I have to put
a cookie in a bag with a label on it to make sure that you're here and you can make a living
and you can be a part of it, then that's what we're gonna do. How are we gonna do this?
And so, I think it's about hiring good people and banding together and figuring out a way
to continue to perpetuate the message and the passion.
And the rest of it comes organically. I mean, the rest of it like, gut checking and it's
like, "I don't know if I wanna open a Milk Bar in Australia." It would be awesome to
live in Australia, but is that the consensus? For Milk Bar, it's like we have this team
and we're a team and if we move to Australia, that means part of our team and our family's
gonna move away and is that what we wanna do?
Can we sustain it? Can we maintain it? And that's the question that happens every time
we open a new Momofuku, whether it's a savory restaurant or it's a Milk Bar. It’s like,
why are we doing it? How are we doing it? Is this what we wanna do?
And it becomes this very cerebral thing where you think like, "You're cooks. You're chefs.
You come up with new menu things and you put them on the menu and they're great." And it
ends up being this much more business savvy, cerebral family meeting time sort of thing
about it.
And I think that's the part of having a restaurant group and running restaurants and running
a bakery that people forget and miss, but it actually is a huge portion of our day and
our week. And figuring out, how do you do it? You have to constantly change. You have
to constantly learn.
You have to eat out. You have to take in. You have to do all those things. And how do
you keep with it? And how do you keep fresh? And how do you keep a personality? And how
do you keep your stuff trendy, but not trendy? You know what I mean? Trendy, but not trendy.
How do you stand on your own island and do it with a group of people? And I don't know
what the answer is. All I can tell you is that it's something that we spend a huge amount
of time on, figuring out and talking about. And every--. We change. We change every, every,
every, every single day.
Like, "OK, we think this was a great idea. Let's do it today." And then three days later,
it's like, "That's a terrible idea. Let's not do it at all." Or, "I'm gonna paint the
floor over here 'cause it's gonna make everyone feel great about working this station." And
we just constantly change and that's how we stay.
We're never stagnant. We constantly--. Whether it's something big or something small, or
something that goes on the menu or how we tray up cookies before they get baked off
in the oven or whatever it is, and we just constantly stay in over our head, always.
>>MALE #1: Cool. You haven't stumbled yet. I didn't hear anything I didn't like. So,
>>Christina Tosi: Thank you.
>>FEMALE #2: I just had a quick question about what would be the one thing that you could
bake literally all day and not get tired of?
>>Christina Tosi: That's a great question. I mean, for me, I feel like the answer is
always cookie dough [giggles] because mixing it, eating it, baking it. Honestly, we were
doing a book talk yesterday night at Omnivore and someone was like, "I currently work in
a bakery, but I think I wanna work in a restaurant and don't you miss like working service and
plating desserts?"
And I was like, "No, I don't miss it at all." And the reason that I knew I wanted a bakery
and love what I do is because I could do any of those things all day every day. If I had
to stand there and put cookies in a bag all day every day, I would happily do it and it
would be my favorite activity.
'Cause it would mean that somebody's, that many people are eating the blueberry and cream
cookie. And that for me is like, I'll do whatever it takes and it never gets old.
>>FEMALE #2: Thank you. And will you be making them for the holidays there?
>>Christina Tosi: Making the blueberry and cream cookies for the holidays? For the holidays,
we have planned to take the corn flake chocolate chip marshmallow cookie and crush up candy
canes and peppermints and fold them in. The recipe is also in the cook book.
It's one of our favorite things to do over the holidays. One, because no one wants to
say good bye to any of the cookies out here. So, you have to make a holiday cookie within
the realm of the current offerings because if you take the Compost Cookie away or the
Corn Cookie away, I'll tell you what. There's gonna be hell to pay.
>>FEMALE #2: Thank you.
>>FEMALE #3: Hey Christina. Thank you so much for coming today on behalf of everyone at
Google. I think that's it for questions. I know a lot of people still wanna get their
books and they're available back there. And I know she also brought a lot of treats.
>>Christina Tosi: Yeah. We brought a ton of cookies and crumbs and crunches. So, come