Chef's Table (2015) s04e01 Episode Script

Christina Tosi

Let's be honest.
You're not going for a cookie for sustenance.
You're going for a cookie for the beauty of indulgence, for the spirit of just letting free and being like, "I know maybe this cookie isn't the thing that's gonna round out my diet for the day, but it's what's gonna bring me joy and remind me that life's too short to worry about how many cookies I ate today.
" And so I started asking myself this question, "What is it that you can do every single day for the rest of your life?" And I was like, "Make cookies.
" Christina Tosi is this force of nature.
She puts on her headband and she's like a superhero.
Christina created this insane pop culture phenomenon.
Milk Bar is a bakery empire.
It changed the way people eat desserts on a daily basis.
I mean, where in the world did a cornflake cookie exist? Where in the world did a truffle ball or What is that? And can you finish it? Or crack pie? I mean, come on.
It was something your mom might make, but made by someone that was, like, a superstar pastry chef.
She's someone that understands nostalgia and someone that wants to destroy nostalgia simultaneously.
She's worked for some of the best chefs in the world, but she's also so very lowbrow at heart.
She's very much a junk food junkie.
And so she just put the food that she loves into her desserts.
I remember one day buying her a box of Take5 candy bars.
Like, and I challenged her, "How many can you eat in a week?" She ate the whole damn box.
Sometimes, she would just come in with raw cookie dough.
I was like, "Who makes raw cookie dough just to snack on?" And then we'd joke, like, "You're gonna get diabetes.
" This is not food that you can eat a lot and feel good ever.
But there's something about Christina's baking that just overrides my off switch.
I can't stop eating it.
Christina is a uniquely American chef.
She's not trying to be French.
She's not running off to Japan.
She is America.
And America's delicious.
I mean, caramel and apple every time.
- Thank you.
- Yes! What is that? Mama.
That's a very generous serving of bacon.
I was a very picky eater, growing up as a kid.
I liked the standards like mac and cheese, hot dogs, cereal, all times of the day and night.
May I have a deep-fried Snickers bar, deep-fried Oreos, deep-fried Twinkies? No judgment.
Wait, also deep-fried chocolate chip cookie dough.
And I had a crazy sweet tooth.
Like ice cream, cookie dough, anything out of the oven, baked, with sugar on top was mine.
Dude! I ate these very, very American desserts like apple pie and soft-serve ice cream.
Like Dairy Queen.
It was the thing that, no matter what was going on in life, if you drove by it, you were gonna stop and get it.
Oh, look at that.
That's gonna be ours.
It just brings joy and happiness to people.
And it makes that moment in life, that tiny, little snapshot in life a little sweeter.
You'll be able to handle all that, Charlie? - Oh, yeah.
- It looks pretty epic! - Thank you.
- You're welcome.
I think the world is more often your oyster when you approach it with more of a childlike sensibility.
Wait, what are you gonna win? The world is a more curious place.
It's a more beautiful place.
- Soft.
- Like this.
- There, yeah! Like that! - Oh! It's not always sunshine and rainbows, but within any given day in life, there should always be a moment where the weight of the world is just a little bit lighter on your shoulders.
Good? You know, this recipe was such a favorite of my dad's, right? Because your great-grandpa, my grandpa, had an apple orchard.
- This was during the Depression.
- Yeah.
The bad ones, they call them "drops," when they fall on the ground, and they're bruised, and you really can't sell those, right? So, instead, my grandma would take the apples and bring 'em in and either make applesauce or apple dumplings.
Grandma used to even save the peels and make applesauce with them.
She was gonna make sure nothing went to waste, you know? You know it.
My mom's mom, my joke with her was that I could make the same exact recipe standing next to her, and somehow hers always tasted better.
But I think that's the beauty of what nurturing and love and care through food tastes like, whether it's mental or emotional, or truly scientific in your taste buds.
They always tasted better when she made them.
My grandmas, my aunts, my mom, they all baked.
Baked every day, never anything fancy.
Baking to always have a fresh-baked good, or baking to give someone, or to bring when you go out, that was just the way it was in life.
I guess, in some respects, you would say she's been doing it all of her life.
From a child.
She wasn't one to want a pony or anything of that nature.
She wanted an Easy-Bake Oven, and I said: "We are not spending money on an Easy-Bake Oven.
We have a real oven in the kitchen.
Come on.
We're going to the kitchen, kiddo.
" - Okay, sweet pea.
- I love you.
Come right up there.
It's just what happens in life and in home life in my family.
And these women that have this incredible power and influence, I just thought they were the coolest women in the world.
Oh, you got it.
We're not just eating all these things ourselves.
We're baking so we can go out and give them to someone.
I love baking 'cause it reminds me of my grandmas.
It makes me feel like I'm a kid trying to sneak cookie dough when they're not looking, and it makes me feel like I'm with them and that I'm one of them.
Wow, nice.
Oh, you can just smell cinnamon in the air, can't you? - Mmm, I had one before.
They're great! - Aren't those great? I think we should add a little more sugar.
I'm raised by women that are hyper-positive and they love to please.
Like, "Oh, my God, it's your birthday.
We're gonna celebrate you until your face is red and you wanna go hide in a corner.
" Whatever little celebration it was, like,"I wanna make you a cake.
" But I never really thought much of cake.
Cake is the thing that you're raised as a child in America to be, like, the most exciting, most celebratory dessert you can have, and "This is okay.
" It's spongy.
It usually doesn't have that much flavor, it's usually a little dry, there's not a lot of texture.
Just like a world of missed opportunities.
I knew I needed to define my own relationship with cake.
And that cake could be a lot better than what it was.
Also, from being in culinary school, around all of these insane masters of beauty and perfection when it comes to finishing a cake They had tired me out completely to the point where I was like, "I don't think cake should be frosted.
" I've seen how obsessed you can get with frosting a cake, and that time should be spent elsewhere.
That time should be spent in the actual layers of cake or frostings or fillings or whatever it is, but it shouldn't be spent on a turntable trying to make the perfect, perfect, perfect frosted cake.
For what? We're not in pottery class.
There's a world of flavors, there's a world of texture.
Cake should be delivering more than that.
And when I start to think about all of these different moments and decisions and time and work put into making the most delicious cake and cake soak and frosting and crumb and filling why would I cover it up? It is that dollhouse moment of looking in and being like, "I wanna see the world of amazing things that's happening on the inside.
" The little intricacies of how I'm thinking about your perfect bite of layer cake.
So we don't frost the sides of the cake.
That's my diatribe on cake.
Are you gonna help me pour the milk? Oh, oh, oh, oh.
My mom was an accountant.
My dad worked at the Department of Agriculture.
They were both professionals.
They both had the same job for their entire life.
And they raised me to be a very studied, steady person.
If you brought home anything less than an A, folks would be like, "Hey, girlfriend, what's going on? That's not okay.
" "Tosis don't get any less than an A" sort of thing.
- Ah.
- Nice job.
There was this turning point nearing graduating college where I started to realize, like, "Wait a second.
Where is this actually gonna get me? Where do I direct this overachieving mentality? Because if I'm not careful, it's kind of gonna be directed nowhere.
" And then it becomes this sad, silly thing, where you're like, "What have I been doing my whole life getting A's? Where is that gonna take me?" I'm about to be a grown-up.
I don't want to suit up and go to work every day.
I knew deep down inside of me that I'd die, I'd suffocate.
And so I started asking myself, "What is the thing that's gonna get you up in the morning and excited?" And it was baking.
And if I could do that for a living, like, that's me.
That would be my dream.
I always felt New York City was this energetic, amazing place where anything is possible.
That really helped form this idea of like, "I'm gonna move to New York and be a pastry chef.
" My mom had a hard time with it.
Baking was something that you did every day in your free time once you were done with regular work.
She just couldn't fathom, like, "How could something so menial drive someone so greatly?" And I said, "I know that you worked your butt off for me to have this life, and I don't want it.
I wanna do something over here.
" I think I knew that that was a little heartbreaking.
But I just knew that I was gonna go, and so I went.
I moved to New York.
I had never been there before.
I had my résumé, which listed very few things.
And I just hit the pavement.
I was living my dream.
And I had my Zagat book, which was really the only caliber of what a great restaurant in New York City was back then.
And I had dog-eared all of the restaurants that had any sort of reputation.
I just needed a job and I wanted it to be in a restaurant.
I knew, once I got my foot in the door, I could work harder and longer than anyone else to get where I needed to go.
I'm going to culinary school by day and working by night.
And I fell in love with restaurant life.
After a year, I finally got a job at a restaurant called Bouley.
Four star, New York Times, one of the three or four great restaurants in New York City at the time.
Christina went to French Culinary Institute.
She worked at Bouley, which was a very big deal.
She did the work.
She's so light and easy.
It distracts you from just how incredibly ambitious and hardworking she is.
I just, like a locomotive, would keep going.
Just, like, pale, bags under my eyes, and blissfully in love with this pursuit.
I didn't stop to really consider much at all.
I probably worked in basements of New York City for over a decade before anything that anyone cares about in my life actually happened.
When you are in it for your first five, ten years, your only job is to be someone else's soldier.
No one gave a S-H-I-T about my opinion until I started working for Wylie Dufresne.
wd~50 was known for being this super-duper, fancy-schmancy, haute-technique restaurant, and Wylie was its cerebral, creative, artistic chef.
I had seen what being a great pastry cook looked like, but in my head I was like, "I don't wanna just be a great pastry cook.
I wanna be the best pastry cook that this restaurant's ever seen.
" In a restaurant, if you wanna show that you're really serious about climbing the ranks, there are things that you just do.
You show up earlier than everyone else and leave later than everyone else.
And you make something for family meal, the pre-meal at 4:00 p.
before we fed our customers.
I either made brownies or chocolate chip cookies on the first day.
- This is the best jam we came up with.
- Okay.
Wylie comes into the kitchen and he says, "Hey, did you make this?" And he would give me his assessment.
It does have that amazing canned blueberry that you put into your blueberry pie.
"What did you do to get it to be this fudgy in the center?" Or, "Are you happy with the balance of chocolate to butter?" Every day was a day that he pushed me.
So we started this routine where I'd make a batch of chocolate chip cookies one day a week, I'd make a batch of English muffins one day a week, and he would critique them with me.
What's hard is the flavor that you get of the blueberry in the drum-dried is pretty magical when you eat it with the milk crumbs.
Compared to the freeze-dried.
"These are pretty good.
What do you think about 'em? Let me tell you what I like in an English muffin.
I like X, Y, and Z.
" And he would pick apart every little part of an English muffin.
I thought that the drum-dried tasted better, too.
There's something when you It's magical.
Makes you wanna close your eyes and take a deep breath.
And it wasn't until I started working at wd~50 that my curiosity with how food is made really started to come.
All right.
One Sunday, I came in, was gonna go make family meal, and I open our fridge, and there's not really anything in the fridge.
I became obsessed with reading about pies from different regions, and reading about this chess pie, this American dessert that they make down south when they don't really have anything left.
And I loved the idea of it, 'cause it's Sunday, I got nothing, I need to make a pie with nothing to make a pie with.
And I decide that I'm gonna make this buttery, gooey, sugary filling.
I grabbed some freeze-dried corn that we were making cornbread ice cream with and I threw that in the filling.
Truth be told, I kind of didn't really measure anything.
I was just kind of being very spiritual about the moment, which is oftentimes what I did when I baked for family meal, because the rest of the day was so precise.
For me, all I wanted to do was be myself, but I wanted to be myself in this community of people.
It's your rite of passage with them, for them to believe that you're talented, and for them to believe you know what good food tastes like.
I baked the pie and the filling never quite set, but it smelled really good, so I was like, "All right, I need to pull this pie out.
It's gonna start burning if I don't.
" So, I pull it out and I throw it in the freezer in hopes that the filling, the center, will just set thick enough that I'm not serving this atrocious, soupy pie.
Like, you can't put that up for family meal.
And a few minutes into family meal, I start hearing these noises in the kitchen.
And one of my buddies is like, "Did you make that pie that's up there on the table?" And I'm like, "Yeah, I know.
It's not perfect, it's not awesome.
" He's like, "You gotta go into the kitchen.
People are freaking out right now.
" And the rest of these guys, they're taking a slice and they're pushing it away from them.
Like, "Do not let me have any more of that pie.
" And this Australian cook was like, "I don't know what you just did, but this pie is like crack.
It's crack pie.
" It became this underground wd~50 family meal dessert that I made on Sundays.
Hey, how are you? Hi.
What can I get you? May I have an everything bagel with scallion cream cheese? You want it toasted? Uh, not toasted.
Um, bacon and tomato.
I was working at wd~50, and I had been there for just shy of two years, and something happened where I had pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed.
And the only other step I could take was the step to become the pastry chef, and I wasn't interested in it.
The dream was to move to New York to become a pastry chef.
Did I really know what that meant? Um, no.
- Thank you very much.
- Thank you.
Going to culinary school, they teach you the fanciest of French techniques.
In working at Bouley, there's no cookies there.
That's not a thing.
And I think, when I slowed down, I realized that being the pastry chef of an incredibly cutting-edge restaurant was just not who I was.
I had worked my butt off.
I stayed in New York.
I never left.
I missed weddings and birthdays and births and holidays and everything for a very long time.
I remember wishing that I had friends or family that lived in the city.
It's a very solitary life.
Early on, I would fill that loneliness with work.
But at some point I realized that that is probably the most boring, one-dimensional thing a human being can be, and that I was becoming that.
At that time, I was a little bit in a space of not really knowing what my next step was.
I was so zoomed in.
I knew I needed to kind of zoom out.
Because I had poked and prodded Wylie to give me whatever side jobs that he needed help with, I had experience working with the health department.
And, one day, he said, "My buddy needs some help.
Do you mind going up there and just sussing it out? I'm not really sure what's going on.
" I basically was put on double secret probation by the health department.
And I was in hell.
This is when Momofuku was really flying by the seat of its pants, and we needed help.
I called Wylie Dufresne, and he's like, "I have someone that can help you out.
" I remember going in for lunch because I wanted to check this guy out.
And Dave was just crushing a cook, just laying into him because something wasn't done properly.
A few minutes later, he's pushing everyone out of the way in the kitchen, and he's got a mop in one hand and a bottle of all-purpose cleaner, spraying down the floor and mopping the floor vigorously.
He's the one in there, just grinding it out.
And that's the salt-of-the-earth stuff that I was raised to be like and for.
I knew that I would do whatever I could to help this guy out.
I hired her specifically to get me back into the good graces of the health department.
She was so great at it.
I was like, "My God, I need someone to help me in the office.
You're so good at paperwork stuff.
Can you help me out here?" He took me out to lunch and offered me a job.
How's it looking? Great.
Just doing the final scrape.
So good.
- Thank you.
- Smells delicious.
- Thank you.
- Yep.
Hi, guys.
- Everything going okay? ÿTodo bien? - Sí.
The job with Dave was a different kind of job.
It was becoming a facilities manager, becoming the director of operations.
I was helping run a business.
So, in a weird way, my bakingness retreated.
After week two, Dave realized that he was getting, maybe, a slightly different version of me.
Dave just straight-up called me out and was like, "Hey, you used to be a pastry cook for Wylie.
He tells me all of these things that you used to do.
Where's my family meal? Where are my cookies? WTF?" I go home, and I just cut to the chase and bake.
And the next day, I brought in miso crack pie.
She made a sweet miso salty pie.
I tasted it, and I was like, "Who the hell would make something like this?" Someone insanely creative, but also someone that has a strong personality.
I brought it in and everyone ate it in two seconds flat.
And once I made that miso crack pie, I just made dessert and brought it in every day for family meal.
One day, Dave called me into the office and he's crushing whatever dessert I brought in, and with his mouth full because when he gets really excited, he can't wait to share his thought.
He was like, "I don't understand.
Let's just put this on the menu.
" But it would be something that I would be horrified at ever thinking about putting on a menu.
Those are the things that I would make for myself, and it wasn't fancy food.
And I was like, "No, that's not a good idea.
" He did this with me every day for that week.
"How about this? This one should go on the menu.
" I'd be like, "I don't think so.
It's not a thing.
" It was maddening for myself 'cause, finally, I have someone that obviously loves cooking.
That was the most important thing.
She fucking loves to cook.
She loves it, but she refused to do it.
And I remember, probably it taking a month or two to being, like, "I'm sorry, I'm not taking no for an answer right now.
Your food is gonna be on the menu tonight.
You got like three hours to" "to produce enough for service.
And you better get started.
" I had to figure something out, and I had to figure it out pretty quickly.
So, I decided to just make a super-duper American strawberry shortcake.
It's rolled in a little confectioners' sugar, which is what my grandma would do.
You have to understand Ssäm Bar and Chang at the time.
You'd go in, it was super loud, there's tons of music, and the food was sort of the equivalent.
They didn't give a shit.
They had one kind of wine, you know, and at the end of the meal, they put down this mochi ice cream, which was probably from the Trader Joe's around the corner on 14th Street, so you're just, like, "Mmm, here's your dessert.
" And then one day, there was this strawberry shortcake on a plate.
It wasn't just a strawberry shortcake.
There were layers of intelligence with crazy going on, which was the Ssäm experience.
So she perfectly complemented him.
What dawned on me very quickly with Christina was that here was a person that still needed an outlet to express herself.
That's when I realized, "Oh, the only way to get her to do it is just to push her off the cliff.
" One day, as we were conceiving how we would build this Momofuku empire, we had decided to open a tasting menu-only restaurant, and so we were building it out.
It's a highly anticipated opening, and I was gonna be responsible for making dessert.
There's this bodega in the East Village.
It's open 24/7.
It feels like it has every ingredient under the sun.
And it's oftentimes where I go when I'm looking to be inspired.
And so I went back to my pastry arsenal, I dug deep.
"What's an elegant, easy dessert to prepare? Panna cotta.
" It's flavored milk.
You set it with gelatin.
It's luxurious.
It's elegant if done right.
I can get down with that.
The only thing about panna cotta is panna cotta is usually pretty boring.
Maybe it's vanilla panna cotta, maybe it's chocolate.
If it's really elegant, it's lemon.
That was the breadth of flavors of panna cotta.
But now I'm landed on this one place to create, which is flavored milk.
And I walk to the cereal aisle.
It's the aisle I know very well from my childhood.
I think to myself, "There is such a thing as cereal-flavored milk.
" That's like the best part of when you're done eating all your cereal, is like the bottom's-up moment of drinking this flavored milk.
It feels like a dessert that I would make if I were a teenager.
But I'm in that weird in-between place of like, I know I'm not a kid.
I want to be taken seriously through my dessert.
I don't know what I think, but I grab a box of cornflakes and I go back to the kitchen and I start making panna cottas.
I wait for the cornflakes to steep 20 minutes and I wring as much of the milk out as I can.
I taste a little, and I'm like, "Okay, this is interesting.
Maybe this is something.
" I bring one to Dave.
I don't say anything because I'm worried if I tell them it's cereal milk, they're gonna think it's too cutesy or too lame, and I don't know how they're gonna receive it.
And I walk away, and I go back into the kitchen.
Dave comes running at me with his eyes wide open and is like, "What is this?" And I said, "Well, it's cereal milk.
" And he just, "This is it.
This is it.
" 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.
" And I remember, like, "Christina, we need to put whatever the fuck cereal milk is in everything.
It's that amazing.
I don't know what the fuck you did, but we need to put it in everything possible.
" Good morning.
How's it going, lovely woman? - Can I help you with anything? - Yes.
It'll be $5.
44 for the two coffees.
- Thank you so much.
- Hey, what are you getting today? Dave was like, "Yo, you need to take this flavor, and you need to run with it as far and as quickly as possible, and people are gonna be chasing you down.
All of the big ice cream brands are gonna start making cereal milk ice cream, and they're all gonna try and bite off your idea, and you need to figure out where you wanna be in that space.
" Going out front.
We were getting a new landlord in one of our buildings in the East Village, and we have to take this space or somebody else is gonna move in next to Ssäm Bar and it can be a whole thing for us.
And Dave was like, "Why don't you take it?" A small empty cup? You got it.
You bet on the person.
- Have a good one.
- What can I get for you? She expressed that she wanted to spread her wings, and Tosi needed to get out of the house.
My job is just to give her the freedom to do what she needs to do.
Dave helped give me permission to be like, "I don't owe anyone anything, and I don't actually need anyone's permission.
" A little bit like, "F the world, it's mine for the taking" approach to life.
As opposed to all of the other times in our friendship, it only took him joking about it once for me to be like, "Great, let's do it.
Let's do it.
" Three weeks before we're supposed to open the doors to Milk Bar.
I'm baking, making desserts for the restaurants, and then in the middle of the night, trying to scrape paint off a brick wall, trying to strip a column.
She was scared.
We were all scared.
But I think this was the next level of me forcing Christina off the ledge.
In true form, I needed help.
I mean, I had people that I hadn't worked with in years come by at 2:00 a.
to help sand benches.
It was like this beautifully imperfect New York family.
For some reason, what I was doing attracted these people.
I was like, "Holy shit! All those people came out to help me.
" It literally took a village to get Milk Bar open.
November 15th, 2008.
Opening day.
We opened the doors, 8:00 a.
There was a line out the door, around the corner of Second Avenue.
Just like that.
And we were in it.
It was this tiny slip of a bakery, like the size of this bar.
It really was.
And there was four or five of us all scrunched in there, working and baking all day.
A bunch of young kids just like, "Hey, we're gonna do this bakery, and Christina's our fearless leader, and she knows what she's doing," even though she was half a step ahead of us the whole time.
I finally had something that was mine, that I had figured out, and the only thing I needed to do was create awesome food.
It all happened so quickly, and we were so crazy busy.
Like, we were exploding out the seams.
Then all of a sudden, I'd be out and people are like, "What do you do?" I was like, "Oh, I work at Milk Bar.
" They'd be like, "Oh, my God!" We thought we were already busy, and then we got this press and it was an explosion.
There is this bakery in New York that I just discovered that has changed the way I didn't know cookies could taste so good.
You told me the name of it.
Anderson Cooper blew Milk Bar up.
I think it's called Milk.
It's next to a restaurant called Momofuku.
He talks about it for three minutes straight in a way that, you're like, you could not have dreamed this.
You couldn't have paid for it.
You could just - They have a pie.
It's called crack pie - You told me about the pie.
that is literally crack.
There is crack in that pie, because once you have that pie, you can think of nothing else but having more of that pie.
It could not have come at a more beautiful, challenging time.
To be like, oh, so now, not only does everyone in New York City want to know what crack pie is, now everyone across America is obsessed with getting their hands on this crack pie.
And I was just living in that moment.
It wasn't until people that worked with my mom would say, like, "I saw your daughter on Martha Stewart," or, "Look at this article of your kid in a magazine doing something," that she actually realized that maybe she could breathe a little bit.
God bless my parents.
They were sure running a number on me.
But I do think that it set me up for success in life.
And I have notes from them saying, like, "You've been through it all.
You've had such a hard time, and I'm so proud of you.
" I was her brother.
I still consider myself her older brother.
But even older brothers with little sisters, the sister gets to a point, like, "I'm not gonna listen to brother anymore.
" But I'm okay if the sister outshines the brother.
Totally okay with that.
She's her own boss now.
The spirit of Milk Bar is, "Come in.
You're welcome.
We're here for you.
" It's not this elitist place.
And that's important to me.
It's not about, like, only if you can get a reservation, and only if you have a certain amount of money or a certain amount of time.
You don't need to go to a fine dining, multi-course menu to indulge.
I think there is something about my path that is very American Dreamy, and it's representative of the opportunity that you see, that you take, that you carve out for yourself.
And what you go out and get.
You're allowed to be anything that you wanna be, and no one gets to tell you differently.
I'm a pastry chef that can do basically anything.
But I choose to do something that is more down-to-earth.
It's not something that I went out to do to send a message.
But it's something that, when I stop to think about, I'm really proud of.
The food that I think of and bake and feed people with has a sense of comfort and joy and care.
And it's through the style of these baked goods that have existed in America for generations and generations before me, and I'm confident for generations and generations to come.
And that, when kids think about making a cake, a lot of them are thinking about not frosting the sides of it.
And they're thinking about using their imagination with limitless bounds.
And to think that that started with me, and that I get to be a part of that for every generation that comes, and I have the opportunity to honor all of the generations before me, and to take it and run with it It just leaves me speechless.
It's pretty cool.