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March 7, 2022
Christina Tosi’s World Spins Around Cakes and Cereal Milk
Article-Tosi

The baker and cookbook author thinks dessert can answer life’s biggest questions and quandaries.

In her new book, Dessert Can Save the World, Christina Tosi takes a break from writing about American baking, her trademark corn cookies, and her “baller birthday sheet cakes,” and stretches out a bit with stories that bridge memoir and life lessons. It’s part Soul of a Chef, part Tony Robbins with a sweet tooth—but all Tosi optimism and sunshine at the same time.

We read about how she got started in some of New York City’s finest kitchens, training under David Bouley and Wylie Dufresne and eventually working for David Chang and launching Momofuku Milk Bar in 2008. There are recipes sprinkled throughout the text, but the heart of the message isn’t fully centered around cooking. It’s more about connecting the sugary Dots of life. But as we find out from this interview, Tosi is more of a Whatchamacallit gal.

I really, really enjoy the tone and structure of this book. It’s different, but it’s not trying too hard. How do you describe this book to friends? Is it a memoir? A business/advice book? It’s certainly not merely a cookbook.
I think of this book as a book of snacks, little bursts of fuel, reminders about the power of little things—the more simple, pure, hilarious, and sweet the better. It’s a reminder that little things collect over time and make a big difference. A reminder of the power we have and hold in our seemingly mundane daily decisions. And ideally, it’s a call to action to take hold of these little things. There are stories, there are lessons, there is laughter and self-depreciation , and, of course, there is dessert.

I love a good “moves to New York, works hard, catches some breaks, succeeds” story. While you had your internship at Bouley, how far did you think you could go?
Back then, I was just thinking about the next day—not the next week or the next year. I was in so far over my head, in the trenches, trying to survive, catch up and then keep up. By the time I left, I was only thinking about where I’d find my next uphill battle, certain I had no clue where I was going, only that I must have so much more to learn. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and though I was in a rush to keep getting my butt kicked, I had no clue what it would add up to—I was just obsessed with the climb.

I had that old-school, European chef mentality ingrained in my neuroses. I started in NYC when I was 20, so I was certain that I was a minimum of eight years behind the brilliant talent on the other side of the pond.

Seventeen million people celebrate a birthday each day, many of them with cake. How is selling birthday cakes by mail not the ultimate business model?
I mean, it is! But it’s more than that, too. Every single person deserves to be celebrated. Showing up for 17 million people every day is not an opportunity we take lightly! Our care packages let us inspire celebration—whether they’re a gift for a loved one or a gift for yourself—to create real, tangible magic every day. We know the power of that, the space it holds in people’s lives—and whether you’re ordering online or finding us in the aisles of the grocery store, we’re here for it.

“I think of this book as a book of snacks, little bursts of fuel, reminders about the power of little things.”

I first interviewed you in 2011. I feel that while your profile has grown, you haven’t changed at all. And this book has a vibe and style that feels like 2011 Tosi. Please correct me!
Doesn’t feel like that long ago, right?! I’ve cleaned up my language a bit (hi mom!), but all the other pieces of me—the values, what drives me, what brings me joy, what I care deeply about in and out of the kitchen—it’s all the same. My worldview is broader, but my heartbeat will never change!

In our 2011 interview, you talked about your love of math. Do you still love math?
🤓 Maybe even more so?! Call it an appreciation for order or a love of solving problems—math just makes sense to me. [My husband,] Will [Guidara,] even commissioned a New York Times puzzler to make me a book of math problems that chills me out when I’m stressing and need an escape. Same old dork 11 years later. 🙂

You write about the genesis of cereal milk. Did you realize you had hit that much gold?
Nope. No clue. I was just jazzed that it resonated with people—that what made sense to me made sense to someone else.

What is it about Zebra Cakes . . . ?
I mean, I ask myself the same thing when I walk by them at the grocery store or the DG (Dollar General). It really is bold—taking a snack cake, going through the trouble of stuffing it with creamy frosting, dipping it in melted white chocolate, and then striping it. My favorite version was always the Easter edition, which I am hot on the hunt for now. The fact that Oatmeal Creme Pies are still stacked on end caps is a freaking feat of glory, and it says a lot about the intersection of nostalgia and dessert—breaking rules, pushing boundaries, creating things that will bring joy because you can and should. Otherwise, they’d just be squares of boring old vanilla cake or chocolate cake or a lonely oatmeal cookie.

What is it about Whatchamacallits?!
It’s the unsung hero of the candy bar impulse purchase rack. That and the 5th Avenue, if you’re lucky enough to live near a store that knows their glory and stocks them fresh! There are so many brilliant candy bars that deserve their moment in the sun, though not at the expense of the Take 5 or peanut butter cup. (I’m actually more pro peanut butter egg or tree or heart or whatever big seasonal occasion it is—I find the crimped hard shell edge gets in the way of the peanut butter core!) If I got to choose my job in my next life, 100 percent, it would be working for Little Debbie or Hostess or Hershey or Mars—a brilliant and beloved dessert brand that’s ready for a gal of action and celebration . . . who would like to receive her paycheck in the form of snacks, please.

Matt Rodbard

Matt Rodbard is the editor in chief of TASTE and author of Koreatown: A Cookbook, a New York Times best-seller, and Food IQ: 100 Questions, Answers, and Recipes to Raise Your Cooking Smarts.