Momofuku Milk Bar's Christina Tosi on Kellogg's NYC, Cereal, and the Creative Process
As the saying goes, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. So why has it taken so long to create an all-day cereal café with childhood favorites featuring innovative, unique, and unexpected twists on the classic bowl of cereal? After 110 years pioneering “breakfast goodness,” that’s exactly what Kellogg’s did.
Located in the heart of Times Square, Kellogg’s NYC offers seasonal bowls of cereal like you’ve never seen before. Who better to partner with than the chef, owner, and founder of Momofuku Milk Bar, award-winning pastry chef and MasterChef judge Christina Tosi, the genius behind cereal milk ice cream, compost cookies, and “crack pie”? Answer: no one.
The Daily Meal had the opportunity to chat with the bubbly, energetic, and passionate chef over one-of-a-kind cereal sundaes. I opted for the Life in Color sundae, a sweet concoction of soft serve ice cream with Froot Loops, lime zest, marshmallows, and passion fruit jam. Tosi went for the sophisticated Pistachio & Lemon cereal bowl with Special K Original, Frosted Flakes, pistachios, lemon zest, and thyme. If you don’t know what’s on the rest of the crazy delicious menu, you can find out here.
Read on to see what Tosi had to say about growing up as a picky eater, discovering the flavor of cereal milk, and her partnership with Kellogg’s NYC.
The Daily Meal: How did you get involved with Kellogg’s and what made you jump on the opportunity to create Kellogg’s NYC?
Christina Tosi: I was brought on board to help create the menu and cereal combinations. I’ve been working with Kellogg’s on and off because we use its cereal at Milk Bar all the time ― we’re crazy Kellogg’s Corn Flake people.
I adore working with them because I love cereal, and everything they create and are about. And I loved the opportunity of getting to create with the same personality and voice that I implement at Milk Bar, but now be able to do it in a vehicle that’s a more simple form than even a cookie, cake, or pie ― and that’s literally through a bowl of cereal.
When did you start experimenting with cereals, and was there a specific point where you realized you had created a new cult favorite among dessert-lovers?
I was a super picky eater as a kid. My mom and I had an agreement that I could go to the grocery store and pick out any cereals I want, as long as when we got home, she could pour as much milk as she wanted over the cereal I chose. I had to drink all the milk at the bottom of the bowl. So sometimes I would do a combination of a couple cereals, and as a 6, 7, or 8-year-old, you think you’re a mad scientist by putting frosted flakes in the same bowl as a chocolaty cereal or something.
When I got into the professional kitchen, it was in 2007, and that’s when I really started to play with it [this cereal milk idea]. I always had grandmas who would put Rice Krispies or Corn Flakes into their chocolate chip cookies for a little added surprise and added texture, which I always thought was super smart.
We were about to open Momofuku Ko in 2007 and I needed to come up with a quick and easy dessert. So I decided I’ll make a panna cotta. But what flavor did I want this panna cotta to have? I thought what else can you flavor milk with? Coffee… fruit… and when I was walking down the cereal isle of a bodega I thought, well I used to like the milk at the bottom of a bowl of cereal. Maybe it could be that.
I made the dessert and it was a hit. All of the sudden I knew I was onto something. Then about two years ago, Milk Bar partnered with Kellogg’s on something called the Recharge Bar. I created cereal combinations — I started playing around with eating cereal at all times throughout the day and night — playing around with basic ingredients we had in the kitchen, at Milk Bar, and at my home. I wanted to create flavors that were fun and playful, flavors that inspire and pique your curiosity and imagination, but in a way that none of them are out of reach.
Why cereal? Do you ever get tired of it?
It’s forever fun, thrilling, and exciting — for me, it’s like a canvas, like a canvas for creation.
Do you have any trusted taste-testers that help you decide what’s outrageously delicious or just plain outrageous?
The menu here has 10 different cereal combinations that will change seasonally. I wanted to make sure there was something on the menu for everyone. I wanted to be cognizant of having enough variety for different folks. I have an awesome team at Milk Bar, and also amongst family and friends, and usually I’ll just make five or six different flavors. My goal is to have one of those combinations be someone’s favorite.
I don’t want everyone to love just one thing. I want to have different people feeling strongly about different things. And that how I know that I’ve hit all the points I want to hit.
What’s your advice to bakers who don’t necessarily like to follow recipes verbatim? (I like to get experimental with add-ins and toppings…) Do you have any tips and tricks when coming up with unusual, but fantastic baked goods?
I taught myself how to bake by doing something similar, by looking at recipes and understanding out why it had certain ingredients in it. And the rest of it I literally learned through trial and error. I feel more free and enjoy baking more when I don’t have to march to the beat of someone else’s drum. I think baking is certainly scientific, and you have to be aware of fat, moisture content, dry ingredients, and obviously that content ratio, and then baking time and temperature.
The one thing I would say, which we also do at Milk Bar (though of course we do have tried and true recipes,) is even if we make 144 batches of our compost cookies, before we scoop or bake all the cookies, we do one test scoop. Whether a test scoop, a test cupcake, or test brownie mold, we do bake it and taste it. From there you can then learn what too much salt or too little baking soda or powder tastes like.
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