The Calm Kitchen: The Beauty of Indulgence
The Calm Kitchen is a series based on the theme of my cookery class of the same name - how cooking is therapeutic and makes us feel better, even when we don’t feel like it . It will look at other areas such as mindfulness, intuitive eating, and celebrate the small pleasures of life that are cooking and good food.
“Let’s be honest, you’re not going to a cookie for sustenance. You’re going for a cookie for the beauty of indulgence, it’s what gonna bring me joy and remind me that life’s too short to worry about many cookies I ate today. I thought… what’s one thing I can do every day for the rest of my life? The answer was - make cookies” - Christina Tosi.
This is the introduction to the Chef's Table episode on baker Christina Tosi. Christina is the owner of Milk Bar Bakery in New York, which made headlines after Anderson Cooper spoke on his show about how he was addicted to their crack pie.
Aside from telling the story of her career, what shines through is her hard work, determination and focus on her creative vision of how she thought cakes should be. Rejecting the typical French culinary school teaching of the time, which idolised beauty and perfection in cake decoration, she focused instead on how the texture and flavour of cake could be improved.
“It's like a world of missed opportunity - I knew I needed to define my own relationship with cake. Cake could be a lot better than what it was, it should be delivering more.”
After ten years working in the basements of New York city restaurants, she realized that her dream of being Pastry Chef in a high-end restaurant wouldn’t allow her to create what was in her heart. When her mentor, David Chang of Momofuku, offered her the space next to his own premises she seized the opportunity to open Milk Bar, where the focus would be on baked goods that offered nostaligia and family memories. Their signature dish was cereal bar ice-cream, using cereal flavoured milk, taking you back to drinking the milk from your cereal bowl as a child.
Her vision, inspired by her childhood and growing up in a family that constantly baked, was uniquely hers. It could never have been incorporated into someone else’s business, and took striking out on her own for it to come to life. Tosi was the creator of the ‘naked cake’ trend around 2014, where cakes where minimally decorated with a very light icing, leaving the sponge and fillings exposed. It went against the grain (ahem) of the conventional (French) approach to cake decoration of perfect layers of icing and piping, but the minimalist approach was hugely popular and it still a dominant style in wedding and birthday cakes.
I watched Bohemian Rhapsody around the same time that I watched this episode and it struck me that both her and Freddie Mercury’s persistence with their creative vision was what set them apart, and ultimately made them both so successful. The song Bohemian Rhapsody was rejected at first for it’s length and unconventional style (operal!), but Mercury persisted. While Mercury and Tosi might seem world’s apart, their commitment to their vision gave them authenticity and created something brand new in their creative fields.
"The world is your oyster when you approach it with a childlike sensibility. It's not always like sunshine and rainbows, but in any given day in life there should be a moment where the weight of the world is a little bit lighter on your shoulders."