How Pastry Goddess Christina Tosi Is Bringing Milk Bar to the Masses

The dessert pro talks MasterChef, endorsement deals and Crack Pie

This past spring, around the release of Christina Tosi's second cookbook, Milk Bar Life, the James Beard Award-winning pastry chef was the subject of a lengthy think piece on the popular food blog Eater likening her to pop star Taylor Swift. But the comparison had nothing to do with Tosi's musical abilities or an affinity for dating bad boys. Rather, it was due to the fact that Tosi, like Swift, is the kind of fun, domestically inclined girl's girl you want to be best friends with. 

Christina Tosi Photo: Brakhax2

Tosi has amassed her own legion of dedicated fans since opening the first Milk Bar bakery—a sweet spinoff of David Chang's Momofuku empire—in Manhattan's East Village seven years ago. Today, devotees flock to the store's seven locations in New York and Toronto for a taste of Tosi's one-of-a-kind, nostalgia-inspired creations, like Cereal Milk soft-serve ice cream, Birthday Cake Truffles and, her most famous concoction, Crack Pie. With a burgeoning TV career, a long list of collaborations with marketers including Kellogg's and American Express, and a line of baking mixes at Target, Tosi is bringing Milk Bar's playful lifestyle—and her own—to the masses.

What led you to pursue baking as a career?

My parents always made the rule very clear that no matter what you want to do in life, you have to get your college degree first, so I went to college to study applied mathematics and Italian. There was a point after my freshman year where I just felt burnt out from being an academic, but I was kind of stuck there until I got a degree, so I basically crammed four years of college into three. Around that time, I started baking two or three recipes a night, every night—that was my happy place. And when I was nearing the end of college, I knew that I didn't want a real job—I didn't want to really be a grown-up—so I decided to move to New York and go to culinary school.

How did you begin working with David Chang at Momofuku?

When I worked at [New York restaurant] wd~50, Wylie Dufresne asked me to write a hazard analysis plan for this cooking technique using reduced oxygen packaging. And Wylie and Dave were friends, so Wylie asked me to help Dave write a plan, too. At that point, Dave was just starting out—there was just Momofuku Noodle Bar—but he was doing something really cool, and I thought it would be really cool to meet him and help out. And we ended up hitting it off.

I was helping Dave run the restaurants, but I'd go home every night and bake. And when you're a crazy girl that bakes late at night, someone has to eat it, so I started bringing my baked goods into work the next day. They were simple baked goods—I wasn't trying to reinvent the wheel or anything. Dave would say, "This is delicious. You should put this on the menu." But I took it as more of a nicety than anything else. And one day, maybe a year later, Dave came in—he was mad about something that had happened in the kitchen—and I remember him looking at me and saying, "You need to go make something for the dessert menu, now." It was one of those moments where you're like, "I know I'm a strong person," but in my head I was going, "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit." But I just kind of figured it out.

Major marketers including Kellogg's, American Express, Subaru and Estée Lauder have tapped Tosi for creative partnerships and appearances in their ads.

What did you make?