The untold truth of celebrity chef Christina Tosi

Christina Tosi, CEO and founder of Milk Bar, has come a long way since her outlandish childhood kitchen experiments. What started as a cereal milk panna cotta on the dessert menu at David Chang's Momofuku has become a sweet, sweeping empire under Tosi's watchful eye. As of October 2019, Milk Bar employed over 381 people (led predominately by women) across 16 locations (via The New York Times and Eater). "Milk Bar is Magic. Milk Bar is a movement," reads the company's mission statement, per the The New York Times.

From naked cakes to Milk Bar Pie, Tosi's recipes have been made and admired by all. Even Chrissy Teigen is a fan — according to Us, she offered herself up for a taste testing job at Milk Bar. "They use ingredients so familiar from our childhood, but in creative ways," the star said. "It's the perfect mix of old and new, and I think that's why even I (a more savory-than-sweets person) enjoy it." We couldn't agree more!

Christina Tosi's kitchen experiments began at a young age

When Christina Tosi was a young girl growing up in Virginia, she spent her days tinkering in the kitchen. Though she was a picky eater who subsisted mostly on mac n' cheese and hot dogs, she was adventurous to the point of ridiculousness when she started experimenting. According to The Guardian, she would eat Doritos with mayonnaise and brown sugar or lima beans covered in ranch dressing. Though it may sound unappetizing, this fearlessness in the kitchen is one of Tosi's defining characteristics and a major factor in her rise to celebrity chef status. 

"My whole approach is to look in cupboards and throw a bunch of stuff together," Tosi told the The New York Times. "It can't really be bad if it's coated in chocolate and butter. Just enjoy yourself." Thanks to this anything-goes attitude and a giant sweet tooth, Tosi's recipes are lauded by all, and her Milk Bar empire is well-known across the world. "At the end of the day, I'm just doing it to eat cookie dough," she said (via The Guardian).

Christina Tosi has a big sweet tooth

According to Rachael Ray Magazine, Christina Tosi's childhood was filled with baked goods — at least one after every meal. Now that she's an adult, her habits haven't changed much. "Detox is having a bowl of cereal before noon but they're not Frosted Flakes," she told The Guardian. Usually, she starts her days with her favorite breakfast: a cup of coffee and a cornflake chocolate chip marshmallow cookie. 

While she has had to make some changes as she's grown older, she claims her diet, until she was about 27 years old, was "crazy." "I was eating a slice of candy bar pie for breakfast, and sometimes for dinner. That's what I loved and craved. Maybe I'd have a piece of cheese in between." But all that sugar gave Tosi the refined palette — and the child-like spirit — that makes her desserts so exemplary. 

And it's not just that she craves sugar — she has a profound appreciation for sweets and the joy they often bring. "I was raised, like, you celebrate when dessert comes out. ... Happiness comes through dessert in my world, in my mind, in my heart." (via Rachael Ray).

Christina Tosi's cereal milk-based desserts launched her into stardom

When Christina Tosi worked at David Chang's popular restaurant, Momofuku, in 2006, she created a panna cotta dessert made with the milk from the bottom of a cereal bowl. "I was trying to make a flavor of milk that was delicious and interesting, but was more than milk," she told Business Insider.

When Chang tasted it, he was instantly impressed, insisting that Tosi use cereal milk in "everything possible." "I was like, 'Oh my god.' When you eat it, you're immediately at your childhood, and that was when I tasted something, I was like, 'This is a world-class dish,'" he said on Tosi's episode of the Netflix documentary series Chef's Table.

Shortly after Chang's first cereal milk experience, he suggested that Tosi open her own business based on cereal milk desserts. On the very first day Milk bar opened, there was a line out the door (via Eater). The rest is history.

Christina Tosi's a nerd!

Christina Tosi initially went to college to study engineering. She loved math and science, but after her first year of school, she just wanted to get through her degree as fast as possible, so she pushed herself to take as many classes as possible and graduated in three years (via Inc). 

Even when she was younger, Tosi was a bit of a nerd. She was in "Dorkestra" and ran cross country and wore "spandex shorts with the map of the world in blue and grey velour." She took all AP classes and describes herself in those days — and ostensibly still now — as a "'march to the beat of my own drum' person" (via Eater).

Luckily, her independence made her all the more determined to follow her dreams. After college, it was just a matter of figuring out what those dreams were. "I had to ask myself, what is that one thing I could do that's going to make me excited about waking up in the morning and that I'll never get sick of?" she said in Inc. Her answer? "Making cookies." 

Christina Tosi and David Chang are practically siblings

David Chang, the celebrity chef and owner of the Momofuku restaurant group, initially hired Christina Tosi to help write the food safety plan for his businesses. But Chang quickly realized Tosi's culinary potential and let her have free reign over the Momofuku dessert menu. 

"There are very few people who have the freedom to do what they want in the company," Chang said in The Guardian. "She does. I trust her completely." 

It was Chang who encouraged Tosi to open Milk Bar and offered the financial investment needed to do so, according to the The New York Times. Though Milk Bar is independent of the Momofuku brand, Chang's role in the company has been a point of contention in the past, due to Chang and Tosi's separate visions for the dessert empire. 

Despite occasionally butting heads, the two still consider each other siblings. "I'm like the older brother and she's the more successful sister," Chang joked (via The Guardian).

Christina Tosi is married to Will Guidara

In 2016, Christina Tosi married restaurateur Will Guidara in New York in the pouring rain. Guidara, who co-owned several upscale restaurants like Eleven Madison Park with Daniel Humm, is obviously a foodie like Tosi (though perhaps with less of a sweet tooth). 

The couple tied the knot alongside family and friends at a summer camp-themed celebration, complete with relay races, tug of war, and water games, People reported. The wedding was perfect for Tosi, whose childlike spirit is the fuel that rocketed her to stardom. 

Before they were officially introduced, Guidara and Tosi ran in similar circles in the New York food scene. "I had a crush on her for about two years before we met," Guidara told Simon Sinek on the podcast, A Bit of Optimism. After he saw a video Tosi made with Karlie Kloss, he couldn't stop thinking about her and asked around to find out if she was single. As soon as she was, Guidara hired her as the pastry chef for a charity event he was organizing. He tasked a friend with keeping Tosi around until the event had ended, at which point he could join her in the kitchen and finally meet the woman he had admired from afar for so long (via A Bit of Optimism).

Christina Tosi's nostalgia helped make her famous

Tosi's brand appeals to consumer nostalgia in such a visceral way that it's nearly impossible to eat a Milk Bar treat without reminiscing about your childhood days at the playground or in your family kitchen.

"We're all about taking apart these colorful, nostalgic things from childhood and putting them back together," Tosi told House Beautiful.

Tosi's youthfulness is an essential part of her spirit, both personally and professionally. "I'm always in search of equilibrium and balancing the realities of grown-up-dom," she said in a Shondaland interview. "Bodyguarding the moment that brings lightness and life and effervescence and curiosity is such an important part of my happiness, my well-being, my sanity."

It's also an important part of her brand — from the store design to the flavor of the products, Milk Bar exudes a kind of nostalgia that could make even the most cynical adult melt. 

"Nostalgia in and of itself has a positive connotation. It has the ability to bring us to a time, a place or a feeling, where, if it's locked in our memory and our heart, it's part of our positive optimistic self," said Tosi (via Shondaland).

It all started with family meal for Christina Tosi

Most restaurants serve their staff a "family meal" before or after normal service hours. Chefs create snacks and treats using extra ingredients left over from menu items. When Christina Tosi worked at WD-50, a former New York hotspot, she made a pie that ended up being "super gooey and underbaked," as she told First We Feast

The gooey butter cake it was inspired by was a recipe her mother and grandmother made when Tosi was a child. The texture of this cake inspired the family meal Tosi would make several years later, which one of her coworkers dubbed Crack Pie.

Tosi faced controversy over the pie's name, and in 2019, she announced that Crack Pie would become Milk Bar Pie. In a letter Tosi sent to the Milk Bar team, she explained that the company's only mission was to "spread joy and inspire celebration." The name references crack cocaine and the epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s, which not only disproportionately affected Black communities and communities of color but also elicited a racist backlash from law enforcement that harmed these communities even further. "The name Crack Pie falls short of this mission," Tosi wrote.

Christina Tosi loves to listen to reggae music

According to Delish, Christina Tosi is a big fan of reggae music. Despite the disparate climates of New York, where Tosi resides, and Jamaica, the birthplace of reggae, Tosi has a particular affinity for the tropical jams of Bob Marley and the like. 

"It makes you think of being on vacation and going to the islands and drinking a piña colada," she said. "Even if you're really just in a hot kitchen in the middle of summer."

The kitchen isn't exactly the most idyllic place to spend a summer, but after years of toiling over hot ovens in the heat of the season, Tosi has found ways of making it more bearable for her and her employees. 

Some of her other favorites include Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, and Tom Waits, according to an interview conducted by i-D. Perhaps she saves those artists for the winter.

Christina Tosi describes herself as 'scary but friendly'

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly about Christina Tosi's role on MasterChef, she claimed her personality was similar to her judging style on the popular cooking competition show. "I'm hard but soft. I'm scary but friendly," she said. Tosi attributed these characteristics to her upbringing: "I was raised by really strong women that were direct but also really nurturing." 

Others close to Tosi, like David Chang, describe her as an intensely bold and ambitious person, according to The New York Times. "She's a born leader," Chang said about Tosi in The Guardian. "Christina had an insatiable desire to learn. She just gets shit done."

Tosi has been so successful in part because of her balance between these two poles of her personality. Her intense drive is balanced out by an equal devotion to playfulness, and these differing traits are clearly discernible in the Milk Bar brand — and they also make for an excellent MasterChef judge!

Christina Tosi embraces failure

"Failure is necessary," Christina Tosi wrote in a personal essay in Time. She describes failure as an unavoidable side effect of taking chances and trying new things. Rather than thinking of failing as a stopping point, Tosi considers it an opportunity to reflect on her decisions and grow from them.

According to Time, when she began judging on MasterChef, she struggled to find her place in television. She had to learn to accept the "daily failures" of this new experience and move forward, trying out new ways to let her personality shine on the show without worrying about inevitable roadblocks. 

As Tosi says, embracing failure does not mean cowering in the face of it or pitying yourself because of it. Instead, Tosi suggests treating it like a friend you let stay for a quick visit before sending it on its way.

"I've learned to give it a big squeeze, smile at it, humble myself to it and then use it as a springboard to send me on my way to strength, success, and fulfillment." Sounds like a pretty good outlook to us!