The mastermind behind crack pie, birthday cake truffles, and cereal milk soft serve has finally brought Milk Bar to Los Angeles. With a new storefront that opened Saturday on Melrose Avenue just west of La Brea, founder Christina Tosi spoke with Variety on the gut-check all desserts must pass before becoming Instagram sensations: “It needs to make you feel alive and sharp, like you’re walking through ‘The Wizard of Oz’ when it’s black and white and all of the sudden it’s life in color. Guttural, soulfully delicious. If you don’t want to go sit in a corner while no one’s looking and eat five of them in an unapologetic way, we’re not there yet.”
Why did you want to bring Milk Bar to L.A.?
I’ve been looking at L.A. for a Milk Bar for eight years. When we first opened in the East Village 10 years ago this November, it became clear that half of our customers were New Yorkers and the other half were Californians based in L.A. We started getting a lot of, “Hey, you gotta open in L.A.” But it didn’t make sense to split up our team between East Coast and West Coast so early on, and I didn’t want to open up in a development out here. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that my lens of what Milk Bar is on L.A .terms is in a beautifully human and gritty strip mall.
You’ve made TV appearances on “MasterChef,” “MasterChef Junior,” and “Chef’s Table: Pastry.” What did you enjoy about those experiences?
When I decided to do TV, one factor was, how do we share our story with more people? I felt strongly about TV being a connector for us to show that cake doesn’t have to be super fancy and particular. Like you see on “Chef’s Table,” I soldiered for people for a decade and the thing that allowed my family and friends to understand why I was never gonna be around was when the person I worked for did something that was visible. It was huge when my mom saw an article about the restaurant that I was working at. I wanted to give my hardworking team something to show their people that their effort every single day mattered. I also thought that we need more women who have worked their tails off to be more visible. Aside from the female role models in my family, there weren’t any I could turn on the TV and watch necessarily growing up. Not in the world of baking and food and in someone running a business and growing it.
How do you feel about cooking as entertainment, considering all the cooking shows out there?
I think what TV has done for the food industry has been incredibly powerful, impactful, and meaningful. People are more curious about food. They’re using these TV shows as a call to action to empower their creative selves. It’s brought more people closer to our craft and what we do and how we do it. I think people champion the art of cooking and baking more. I tell my team: “You have to sell a lot of cookies to pay the rent.” I think without food television, it would’ve been much more difficult to have people be so excited about the food that we make every day and to inspire them to want to get up from their desk and come visit us.
Are you looking forward to making more TV appearances? Would you ever want your own cooking show?
After watching my “Chef’s Table,” I thought: “Yeah, that’s about right. That’s as much as you can tell in 40 minutes.” But seeing how it affected so many others really made me stop and go: “Am I putting enough of myself out there on a daily basis?” I would absolutely love to create a show that really embodies and celebrates the spirit of me that you get to know a piece of over that episode. I think food competition shows are amazing. I used to watch “MasterChef” before I was a part of it. I also think what’s missing in the TV world are those shows that you can watch with your five-year-old niece and your grandpa.
What are some of the new L.A.-specific menu items?
The menu will have all your faves, but it’ll also have an unlimited source of new inspiration. We’ve got pineapple fo sho whip for soft serve. And we’ll have an incredible sweet and savory bread program that is all L.A.-specific with the pastrami and rye bomb, elote cornbread, chorizo and egg bomb, and the pistachio and lemon sweet bread. And for our shakes, I don’t know about you, but I’m a really big fan of eating ice cream with inclusions in them like syrups, fudges, drizzles, and drops. We’re working on a bunch of different ones like the crunchy coconut pineapple shake and the pineapple upside down cake milk quake. It’s a tongue-twister.