How Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi Achieves It
Illustration: Lauren Tamaki
Christina Tosi is the mastermind behind some of the sweetest creations known to man: B’Day truffles, compost cookies and cereal milk, all in her bakery. Milk bar. The American chef, author and TV personality opened his shop in 2008 with seed money from David Chang of the Momofuku restaurant group, his boss at the time. Back then, “Milk Bar” consisted of a modestly sized storefront in the East Village – when visiting, you had to cross your fingers that they weren’t sold out of your favorite treat. Today, Tosi has over 12 outlets across the US and Canada, with a brilliant flagship at NoMad. She wrote five books, at been a judge on Chef, and connects with fans through recipe sharing and Instagram live sessions she calls Pastry club. In addition to being a new mom, she is currently working on a memoir, Dessert can change the world, released in March 2022 (don’t worry, there are recipes too), as well as the filming of a new season of Cooking team on Netflix. She lives in New York with her husband, restaurateur Will Guidara, and daughter, Frankie.
I usually wake up before or with the sun. I just had a puppy recently and this early in the morning usually includes cuddling and potty training a puppy. Getting up and working on a new recipe at 6 a.m., you’d be surprised at how well you can fit in. I make strong coffee. Sometimes I have breakfast. A lot of times I don’t because we’re tasting cookies or ordering ingredients for a new cookbook or whatever. I started stretching in the morning, which is a wonderfully old thing to say. It makes such a bloody difference, and no matter what I take with me from work the night before or how I slept, it just changes my reality.
The hilarity of it all is for a long time, I was a night owl when I was working. When you are a classically trained pastry chef and you climb the ladder in restaurants, you serve desserts from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., and you come home around 3 a.m. or 4 a.m.
I’m still splitting my time between the office, cooking, cooking at home, the city, upstate, and then once in a while I get on the plane to film another season of Cooking team. I do a bit of everything, which I guess isn’t that different from what it was a few years ago, just there’s some time at home, which is nice as a new mom .
Writing his first memoirs:
Early in the morning or very late at night after everyone had gone to bed, I worked on these memoirs. It’s called Dessert can save the world, and it’s a collection of unique stories, lessons, and little recipes. It was really fun to do. Most of the time, neither of us slows down enough to backtrack, and I found value and importance in that backtrack. What has happened in the past 13 years? And how does it bind us? And what does all this mean?
Take time for family life:
Frankie holds us to a sluggishness at certain times of the day that we would probably have tried to cram too much into. Every morning, rain or shine, I wrap her in a baby carrier and go for a walk outside. Sometimes the walk is very long, sometimes 15 or 20 minutes, but she loves being outside. There’s a lovely kind of slowness and stillness that his presence has built in the early morning and evening that just gives me time and space.
To find inspiration and stay sane:
Doing everything from going to McDonald’s looking for the brand new limited edition dessert to thinking “I’m going to get fries and cereal milk” I kinda think about, How can I break the rules like a child? These everyday moments and decisions that make me feel lighter inspire me.
When checking in with yourself:
I never feel exhausted. I really feel heavy or worn out sometimes. My philosophy is to always measure myself at the end of the day, to say, How are you doing? It’s the same thing I ask myself in the morning: What do you need? then What does the team need? I kind of have a little chat with myself like, Did you leave a person, a place, a thing, the world better today than you found it? And I think that always gives me a levity. Checking in with myself is important.
Work with large teams in different cities:
It’s honestly very complicated and also very simple: it’s about having a team of incredible people. Finding them, recruiting them, and hiring them is definitely a big chunk of that. No matter how much I travel or not, there has to be a weekly commitment to contacting each other, calling each other on the phone, FaceTiming, treating them like you’re like family during the day. Maintain the relationship in a professional measure, but also connect with them as people who are really important members of your life. And then have the trust and confidence that they all connect with each other and that you are all walking towards the same vision.
I always make time for myself at the beginning of my day and at the end of my day. And if that means waking up at four or five in the morning, I do that, because I’m much more calm and centered and at peace and ready to give my all to my team when I do that. I look at my calendar a week or two in advance – I really like being inspired in the moment and being present, but I never go a day without knowing what I’m getting into. I also spend a lot of time thinking about what serves me best from a timeline perspective. I usually try to pack a lot on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and leave Monday and Friday a little freer to catch up or wrap things up.
On the importance of snacking:
If I’m really honest, I eat one meal a day, and that’s dinner. I usually have dinner between 8 and 10 p.m. I love snacking. I never say no to that. As you can imagine, we have a crazy amount of desserts in our universe between stores, our R&D lab kitchen, recipe testing – especially in grocery this year. Our cereal game at our office is crazy. We always bring snacks to each other to say, “Oh, this wrapper is awesome”, “Look at this flavor”. That’s basically how I live my life when my husband and I go to and from daycare and when one of us is out of town. I’m like, “Oh, we’re going to miss you so much,” but also for me, it’s the best excuse to snack for so many days in a row without ever having to eat a real meal with another human. I lived for comfortable food and dinerish. I’m going to make myself some French toast sticks or little miniature pancakes so I can roll something in it and eat it.
On building community through sweets:
I continue to build the Bake Club community and create a space for people to use baking as a tool and as a path in the world to connect with each other. We recently launched our products in grocery stores. It was just really fun, doing more and doing better than what’s in the grocery stores, doing more colorful and more magical and more rule-breaking things, because we can and we must.
Are we having dinner or snacking? What do I want to do with my night? I try to look at this with fresh eyes and new opportunities. And that’s how I approach each day. Whether it’s starting a fire or playing a game of cards or just being more determined about a specific routine. What do we want our night to be? Do we want to be ridiculous? Should we just put on some music right now and have a dance party? It’s just about stopping and thinking about what we want it to be and tossing around good and bad ideas, then picking one and committing to it for an hour, two or three. It’s funny to say out loud, but it’s something. If we’re in the countryside, do we want to get flashlights and just hang out, or should we just order six different ice creams on demand and do an ice cream tasting and decide which is the best ice cream now and forever? It keeps us on our toes and reminds us that we create our own reality.
At the end of the day :
I always watch TV in bed, for better or for worse. It’s definitely one of my guilty pleasures. You can usually find me with ice cream, cookies, or candy in bed watching a TV show. It’s like my security blanket. Beyond that, I usually stop to think about, Does anyone else need anything from me? Is there anything I left on the table in terms of an expression of gratitude or saying “Good job” or “Thank you” to someone? Once Frankie is downstairs and work is put away, if it’s not a late night or an all-nighter, I always like to put on a pair of pajamas that make me feel like a million bucks and go downhill in the pantry and make a bowl of something. I don’t need escape in my life, but I feel like I’m in a different universe and at a different time in a different space, because I don’t move and travel as much as I do. before.