Five minutes with Christina Tosi

By Nici Wickes

Five minutes with Christina Tosi, owner of David Chang's Momofuku Milk Bar in New York.

Christina Tosi. Photo / Supplied
Christina Tosi. Photo / Supplied

For the entire month of October, Sydney has been bubbling over with the Crave Sydney International Food Festival - a programme of more than 500 food and wine events and an international line-up of culinary stars.

One that caught my eye was a sweet young thing from New York City. Or more accurately, a young chef of sweet things - Christina Tosi, owner of David Chang's Momofuku Milk Bar in New York.

Tosi is making a name for herself selling her trademarked "compost cookies", a chunky chocolate chip cookie studded with pretzels, potato chips and coffee grounds, and "crack pie", an addictive salty-sweet pie with an oatmeal crust. She was recently named Rising Star of 2012 by the James Beard Foundation for her innovation and the imaginative approach she's taking with her must-visit New York bakeries. Her first book Milk - Momofuku Milk Bar launched to great acclaim. I caught up with this cool kid to find out what makes her cookies so hot right now.

Milk Bar is famous for turning ideas of conventional cookies and sweets on their head. Where do your ideas come from - for example the controversially named "crack pie"?

Most of my ideas happen when I'm having fun in the kitchen - for example, crack pie was a treat I made for the kitchen at WD-50 (chef Wylie Dufresne's ground-breaking NYC restaurant). It was an instant hit and everyone was so buzzed on the sugar high for service that night, the name was obvious!

When you invent new recipes, are there many failures along the way?

In our kitchen, everyone has a voice - we let everyone contribute and along the way some of the ideas don't work out - but that collaborative environment is also the incubator for some of our best successes.

Do you think there are those who bake and those who cook?

I think that baking and cooking attract two different personalities - but in our kitchen, we have plenty of people who started as savoury cooks and migrated to baking, and still do both very well. We also approach baking with a real cooking sensibility - we aren't quite as fussy as the traditional image most people have of pastry chefs.

What is the ultimate dessert ingredient that you couldn't live without (aside from, I presume, sugar)?

Exactly the opposite - salt. It adds a sharpness to baked goods and desserts that I think is really important.

You look to be living proof that eating dessert doesn't make you fat - how does that work?

It's all about balance - I work long days running around a kitchen and I go running to relieve stress - so none of the compost cookies stick. It helps that sugar is my only vice.

What is your favourite food destination and why?

I love going to a new place and checking out the supermarkets and corner stores for the very culturally specific treats people who live there eat. It's so much fun to get that new perspective on sweets and the people of a new place. For example, here in Australia I love the violet crumble and Anzac cookies.

What things do you miss most when travelling?

Since I know they'll be waiting for me when I get home, I generally focus on the new things I'll be able to have. For example, we're loving how seriously Aussies take their coffee. I enjoy the flat white and the chocolate on a cappuccino.

You're a big fan of milk powder in your recipes, have you tried New Zealand milk powder yet?

I haven't, I'll have to look for it. It's so interesting how various staple ingredients are different from place to place - for example, the butter and cream in Sydney is so different - but our cookies still come out delicious. It's a really fun challenge for me as a baker.

Why do you think food is such a great connector of people?

I think it's the sharing. The conversation and the shared experience is what makes a meal memorable, almost more than the food itself.

Would you date anyone who didn't eat dessert?

Hmmm - they would definitely have to love food.

- NZ Herald

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