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Queen of the dessert

This Momofuku protegee has found her sweet spot in NYC, writes Julia May.

ON THEIR first trip to New York, most people take with them a list of ''must-do'' eateries that are inextricably linked with the Big Apple.

They savour a warm, salty pretzel from a street vendor. They stop by Katz's Deli for an elephantine salt-beef sandwich, while recalling Meg Ryan's moment in When Harry Met Sally. They gasp at the Manhattan skyline while eating ice-cream from the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory and, of course, they follow in the footsteps of the Sex and the City girls with a ''cawfee'' and cupcake from Magnolia Bakery.

On my first trip to New York seven years ago I did all of these things, and only the cupcake failed to deliver. Despite a long, drooling wait in the queue, I was disappointed. It was just a cupcake. I could have been anywhere.

Momofuku Milk Bar wasn't around then, unfortunately. The bakery spinoff from the Momofuku restaurant group founded by David Chang has become known for its bold, brash and downright mind-boggling baked concoctions; the kind of desserts that knock you down then pick you up again, just as a good New York experience should.

Momofuku Milk Bar is owned and operated by Chang's sweet-toothed protege, Christina Tosi, who initially joined the company as a food safety consultant. It didn't take long before the unconventional home-baked desserts she brought to work caught Chang's eye - or rather, his taste buds. Tosi recalls in her new book, Momofuku Milk Bar, that it was one of her famed ''crack pies'' that finally broke him. After sampling a piece of toasted-miso pie, Chang ordered Tosi to leave her desk and make dessert for that night's dinner service. She hesitated. What could she possibly make?

''He stared back, now stern and slightly cold,'' she writes. '' 'Make this, or make those cookies. I don't care what the f--- you make. Just make something. And make sure it's f---ing delicious.''' Career launches don't come more ''New York'' than that.


Tosi, 30, quickly became the Dessert Queen of Chang's five restaurants - one of which, Momofuku Seiobo, opened in Sydney last year. In 2008, she opened the first Momofuku Milk Bar bakery, and four more have followed across New York. This year she was named the respected James Beard Foundation's Rising Star Chef of the Year.

Tosi will attend the Crave Sydney Food Festival in October and the trained pastry chef has her sights on Australia's sweet offerings. She admits having had a ''crippling cookie dough problem ever since I can remember'' and, according to Chang, can ''consume more sugar than is seemingly humanly possible without keeling over''.

There can be no doubt - Tosi is obsessed. After studying maths and engineering at university, the Ohio-born daughter of an economist and an accountant couldn't quell her dessert cravings. ''It was what I thought of when I woke up and before bed every evening … It seemed like a fairytale; those inspirational, emo moments in movies always tell you to follow your heart, make the thing you're obsessed with your profession. So I did.''

Tosi is known for her strong work ethic and her stubborn streak. She says that living and working in New York has influenced her cooking and ''strong and pushy'' management style. ''I love NYC,'' she says. ''It has this heartbeat and pulse that makes working 24/7, always moving, always shaking, always creating, so contagious and obsessive.''

Chang says that beneath Tosi's southern charm she is a ''ruthless killer'' whose ability to produce avant-garde desserts from simple flavours and ingredients can make ''grown men whimper''. A flick through her cookbook leads to a thousand questions: Cereal Milk Ice Cream Pie? Earl Grey Fudge Sauce? Not to mention inventions that could only hail from America: PB & J (saltine panna cotta, concord grape jelly and peanut butter crunch) and Pretzel Ice Cream Pie. Her ''compost cookies'' have achieved legend status, combining Tosi's favourite snacks, such as potato crisps, with a sweet cookie base. All this creating doesn't leave much time for relationships outside work. Tosi says: ''Milk Bar is my baby, Milk Bar is my family, Milk Bar is my home.'' When asked what meals she cooks when a) there's only canned food in the cupboard, or b) when she has access to all the ingredients she needs, Tosi gives the same answer: ''nachos or chips and dip''. Since turning 30, she has curbed her sugar intake, limiting herself to ''just'' one cookie a day.

One might expect her physique to reflect her eating habits. But Tosi is trim and taut, with a clear southerner's complexion. It can only be that the exertion of subscribing to one of her golden rules of business is what burns all those calories: ''Push, push, push. Never stop pushing''.

Momofuku Milk Bar is published by Bloombsbury in August, rrp $49.99.