Everything We’ve Ever Learned From Christina Tosi

April 17, 2018

Have you tuned in yet to Netflix’s newest installment of Chef’s Table? After three seasons devoted to chefs the world over and their genre-bending masterpieces, the anthology show turns its gaze to creations of a sweeter ilk: This time around it’s all about the pastry chef.

Christina Tosi, the genius behind Milk Bar and general pacesetter for the past decade or so of American sweet eating, is the face of the inaugural episode of Chef’s Table: Pastry. Her story lands amid a swirl of controversy. The Netflix series disproportionately profiles male chefs, a fact made even more salient this season—Tosi is the only female pastry chef headlining one of the four new episodes, in a field dominated by women. Some even think the episode, in comparison to others, didn’t do justice to her indelible thumbprint on the modern American dessert landscape. Regardless of her continuously burgeoning acclaim, we’ve been a fan of Tosi and her comforting, imaginative takes on Americans classics for a while now. We dove back into the archives to see how she’s contributed to our site over the years.

For starters, there’s her recipe for English muffins and pickled strawberry jam that graced our site back in 2013. It came with this little anecdote, which fans of the show might even recognize:

Shop the Story

I used to make family meal dessert when I was a cook at wd~50. Over time, just making one dessert wasn’t enough to satisfy my love of baking, so I started branching out and making morning or late-night baked goods on top of my family meal desserts. First up was English muffins (one of Wylie’s favorites). I would make a batch nearly every day and we’d dissect the room for improvement in each batch, from technique to overall flavor. I spent every day for months getting this recipe just right. It’s tried and true, and easily one of my favorites.

Or the time that her trademark bagel bombs inspired a community-wide hunt for the most inventive take on the already inventive treat, inspiring our whole community to dream up new, wild ways to take bagels to the next level.

Tosi and her cookbook Momofuku Milk Bar have also been the subject of our Cookbook Club. Our community baked their way through her ode to sweets and got a peek at all the secrets that have people lining up for blocks outside her iconic shops. People started soaking cornflakes in milk and leaving the icing off the walls of their cakes on purpose, all in the name of Tosi.

She was instrumental in launching an internet debate about whether millennials do or do not eat cereal (and its milk). The backstory behind everyone’s favorite cereal milk ice cream is one of the most exciting moments of her Netflix special.

And she even elicited a spirited train of thought from our writer Sarah Jampel as she weighed the pastry chef’s legacy and the future of her cookbook. Much of what Tosi does is controversial, and purposefully so. On the flip side, her creations are also beloved, approachable, and intensely delicious. Sarah summed it up perfectly:

A few years from now, when Christina Tosi is even more famous than she is today, we’ll look back at the book and tell tales of the creative, smart, and resourceful minds behind Milk Bar, and 50 years from now, we’ll study the book and treasure it as a cultural artifact. It will be a textbook in a food culture course in which a professor lectures about the toast trend, the anti-toast trend, and the upper-class reappropriation of junk-food culture in the second decade of the millennium.

Have you seen the Chef’s Table: Pastry episode? Tell us what you thought in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Stephanie Duffy
    Stephanie Duffy
  • Jason Gans
    Jason Gans
  • Dan
  • Renée Robinson
    Renée Robinson
  • M
Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.


Stephanie D. April 30, 2018
LOVE the piece in Chef's Table on Christina Tosi! It's amazing to see her passion for cooking and her process for coming up with new ideas. Even if you are not a sweet person, it was entertaining and artfully done. More please!
Jason G. April 27, 2018
Making the Cereal Milk Panna Cotta now. Does anyone have a guess as to what the green ganache she uses when plating it in the Chef's Table episode? Macha maybe? Or Pistachio?
Janet S. June 8, 2018
It's avocado
Dan April 19, 2018
It was refreshing to see a chef without endless piercings and tattoos. Great show and the comment about Chang is so true. Leave the politics to Bourdain who is much more articulate.
Renée R. April 19, 2018
I have seen every episode of Chef's Table and have been amazed and in love with this show. There is nothing else like it. It is in a class of it's own. Now, we come to the pastry chef series. Hmmmmm. Sadly, while I still liked it, it isn't in the same class as the previous series. The production values and story telling is off. So, what about Christina Tosi? I've been to Milk Bar and I've eaten crack pie, cereal milk soft serve, etc. When I first tasted crack pie, I was a little surprised. My thought was it's a good chess pie. But, not the off the charts pie I'd heard about. Same with the soft serve and other cookies I tasted. I think her addition of corn products is the most interesting thing she's done. I'm not disparaging her in any way. This woman has worked her butt off to achieve what she has done and I admire her greatly. I just don't think her tastes and mine necessarily coincide. Her famous cake completely turns me off. Sprinkles have never been my thing. Nor is she the first person to leave off the icing on the sides of a cake. The other ingredients in the cake also leave me cold. I think it's a matter of personal taste. When they showed her at the fair ordering all of the deep fried sweets, I knew we were dealing with completely different sensibilities. Deep fried Twinkies hold no allure for me. That being said, her English muffins and pickled strawberry jam sound wonderful and I'm going to make both of them.
M April 18, 2018
I've yet to see Chef's Table. I will, for Tosi (she led me to this site!), but I'm tired of David Chang's short-sighted demand for representation and inclusion that only seems to stretch as far as his own marginalized experiences. His media empire is a sausage fest that likes to hear itself talk, but never applies the lessons its trying to teach.
Jessica H. April 18, 2018
Love love love Chef's Table! So great to see behind the scenes on crack pie.
Valerio F. April 18, 2018
I know... I might have to try it out for myself some day soon.