Know Your Chef: Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar

You are here

Chef Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar in New York will be part of the Girls Got Game! Sunday brunch, on Sept. 9 at the Hyatt Regency in Waikiki. Chef Tosi will be serving coffee milk and English muffins with smoked pineapple-onion marmalade topped with a soft poached egg.

She's looking forward to using Hawaii's amazing produce and wants to make sure her dish is a great marriage of what she does in New York City, yet still very celebratory of what cooking at the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival means.

Tosi knew going into the menu development process that she wanted to find a way to use coffee, pineapples, farm fresh eggs and some local greens.

"We love to make homemade English muffins at our bakery and serving them with warm runny eggs," she says. "Coffee milk, we typically make with Stumptown Coffee beans. People go crazy for both, but I think we’re easily the most excited about eating our own dishes in Hawaii."

Here's the transcript from my conversation with Tosi:

Morita - It sounds like you guys are kind of busy there.

Tosi - Yeah, we're kind of wussies. It's summer time, but it's summer time and the temperatures just spiked from the mid 60s to 100 degrees.

Morita - Wow!

Tosi - So, we're working overtime here to stay cool.

Morita - Yeah, AC in a bakeshop is always important.

Tosi - Exactly, they're always a tricky balance, and of course, Murphy's Law, your AC never gives out until it's 100 degrees outside.

Morita - Of course

Tosi - But that's okay, we're no strangers to a challenge.

Morita - That's pretty much how things are in this industry. There's always a challenge. It's never easy.

Tosi - For sure.

Morita - Going through your questionnaire that you sent back, you seem to be really excited to be able to work with the local ingredients from here in Hawaii. Do you get a chance to use a lot of local products where you are?

Tosi - We do. We get a chance to use local produce all the time, but the tricky think is, in New York we're limited in comparison to the produce you can get in Hawaii. When it's cold here, we are limited to mostly herbs and root vegetables, but at Milk Bar, we love getting local organic whole milk from nearby farms. That's something that we really get to benefit from and enjoy year round. It's something that we are really proud to source and promote.

Morita - Do you get a chance to use raw, unpasteurized milk from the dairies at all?

Tosi - You know, New York state is very strict, and it is illegal to use or sell raw unpasteurized milk. I've had a few tastes, but we are not allowed to buy it, and we're not allowed to sell it. New York is still a little uptight about it.

Morita - That's really unfortunate because sometimes that raw unpasteurized is really good and heavy creamy.

Tosi - I know. I'm really looking to getting out of the city and getting a chance to sample the local dairies.

Morita - I'm not really sure what Hawaii's stance is on using unpasteurized milk, but I know that we do have a lot of dairies here that you'll hopefully get a chance to visit. One of them is Naked Cow Dairy, which just recently started making a lot of cheeses.

Tosi - Yes, I was reading about them (Naked Cow Dairy) when we were trying to figure out what dish we were going to do for the brunch. I can't wait to taste the cheese, but I'm also so excited to taste the milk because dairy from grass fed cows has so many flavors based on where they are grazing.

Morita - Yeah, lot of earthy flavors in there too. They (Naked Cow Dairy) don't get to sell a lot of their cream, because almost all of their dairy goes toward their butter and cheese making. But if you're really nice to them maybe they'll sell you a quart or two. They have some really great stuff and their butters and cheeses are really coming along.

Tosi - Aw, that's great.

Morita - So, everyone has been talking about your cereal milk. For me, when I first heard about it, it was kind of a duh moment. Dammit, why didn't I think of that before.

Tosi - It is definitely. Even when I came up with it and was serving it to some of the other chefs at Momofuku for the first time, I thought that this is either a really good idea or really bad. It's either going to be really well received of they are going to be like, "this is dumb." However, it is one of those things when you say it out loud, it's so obvious that you want to smack your forehead.

Morita - Well yeah, because everyone has done it when you finish a bowl of cereal, you drink the leftover milk after.

Tosi - And everyone knows the flavor right?

Morita - Yeah, it's the best part of eating cereal. I like that you put a little bit of salt in there too.

Tosi - Yes, balance in anything is always important.

Morita - Totally.

Tosi - Especially if you're going to serve it in a certain way, that balance in seasoning especially in a dessert.

Morita - Something that a lot of pastry chefs forget about is seasoning. They are so busy concentrating on the sweet that they forget that cooking is about balance, and salt is a flavor enhancer and if you put a little bit in there, it does make everything taste better.

Tosi - Absolutely. That's like my mantra too. I'm glad we see eye-to-eye on that.

Morita - A lot of times pastry chefs and bakers forget that the concept of a sweet dessert is kind of an American idea. If you go to other places around the world like Europe and South America, a dessert is a palate cleanser at the end of the meal. So, it's not always sweet.

Tosi - Exactly, it doesn't have to be overly sweet. There are so many different intensity levels. There are so many different things you can do within the dessert category. It doesn't have to be just one way.

Morita - Recently, there has been that trend of blending savory with sweet, which has lead a lot of people to start putting bacon in everything.

Tosi - Yeah, bacon is one of those things. If you think about the way it behaves in dessert. I think it's a play on not-too-sweet trend that can incorporate savory into desserts. I think smoke in desserts when done properly can make a dessert really interesting.

Morita - Have you had a chance to experiment with bacon in any of your stuff?

Tosi - With bacon? Well, I eat plenty. I eat my fair share of bacon. We have bacon in our kitchen. We put it into our cornbread and out bagel bomb that we make that has a bacon Italian cream cheese filling. My sort of way to use that saltiness and smokiness is to use the rendered bacon fat as an element in the dessert.

Morita - Yeah, I've used that a lot too.

Tosi - Yeah, it has a lot of the flavor benefits as well. It's not about, "There's bacon in this dessert, everyone look over here." It's just about the flavor of the end product. It also adds a nice tenderness to desserts and a level of complexity from the savory-salty.

Morita - Pretty much anything that uses lard or shortening, why not use bacon?

Tosi - Why not? I mean if you have it. If you're rendering the bacon, what are you doing with it anyway?

Morita - It's utilizing it. I mean, I've even used duck fat in a few recipes.

Tosi - Duck fat is... one of these days, someone is going to share the secret of duck fat. We love using duck fat in our kitchen as well.

Morita - Oh yeah, it's just great in rich cakes, savory cakes.

Tosi - Yeah... in quick breads. I agree wholeheartedly.

Morita - In cornbread... oh yeah.

Tosi - Yes!

Morita - I'd like to thank you for your time.

Tosi - Cool, so I'll see you in September?

Morita - Oh definitely. We'll have to talk some more about baking.

Tosi - Cool, sounds perfect. I'll see you then.

-For more on the Hawai'i Food & Wine Festival, follow us on Twitter and Facebook.