Christina Tosi is the chef, founder and owner of Milk Bar, called “one of the most exciting bakeries in the country” by Bon Appétit magazine. With 13 locations and a growing fan base, Tosi has dessert down to a science.
When did you first realize your love for food?
I was raised by a family who cooked and baked for every occasion. The kitchen has been, and always will be, the center of any home that I’m in. It’s a place to gather around and catch up with friends and family. It’s where you can bake up a batch of something to bring to someone in need, someone under the weather or someone that needs a little cheering up. After I graduated college, the only thing I could imagine spending the rest of my life doing was making food. I moved to New York for pastry school, worked in fine dining and started the Momofuku dessert program. We’re now in the 10th year at Milk Bar, and every day is thinking about a new store, new flavors and how to bring Milk Bar to more people.
With over a million restaurants in America, the small business owners behind this industry must create a competitive edge to survive and prosper. Can you describe Milk Bar’s unique selling proposition, and the inspiration behind your product development process?
When I first opened Milk Bar, I saw an opportunity to change the conversation about dessert. Cakes, cookies and ice cream are always on my mind, but I wanted a different experience. I wanted people to feel something amazing when they ate my food; to feel more connected, to feel inspired, to get creative. I knew I could do that if I gave every part of myself to building the bakery. At Milk Bar, we’re comfortably human. We’re authentic, humble, hardworking and not afraid to be ourselves. We don’t make vanilla ice cream, we make cereal milk ice cream: an insanely deep flavor that tastes like the bottom of your bowl of cereal from childhood or your last lazy day spent in pajamas. We don’t make an ordinary chocolate chip cookie; instead, we fold in buttery, caramelized cornflakes and gooey marshmallows for our cornflake-chocolate chip-marshmallow cookie. The team and I dig deep to find foods that elicit an emotional response. Which flavors transport us and make us feel understood? We know the flavors we create and develop are how we connect with people, so we take this part of the job very seriously.
Technology has had a drastic impact on the restaurant industry, from POS systems, to reservation platforms, social media and delivery options. How has the increasing relationship between the food industry and technology benefited you?
A huge part of my business is done online. One of the beautiful things about technology is that you can reach a lot more people. You can reach them, but to feed them, that must be done in person. Each needs the other these days. It’s thrilling to see the innovation grow between the two industries. I’m an overly enthusiastic, highly impatient person, so the one-click-and-it’s-at-your-doorstep access technology brings me every day helps feed my imagination.
What advice do you have for an aspiring bakery or restaurant owner?
Mean it. It’s hard, grueling work. You have to love doing it when no one is looking, when everyone else has gone to bed at night, and when it doesn’t pay the bills. You also have to trust yourself. Trust your instincts. Don’t try to be something you’re not. It’s a very honest piece of advice, but in this day and age, authenticity is king (or queen.)