It’s National Cereal Day, and how Americans consume the food is changing thanks to one imaginative chef.
Christina Tosi is famous for the innovative creations she serves at the 10 Milk Bar bakeries she owns across the US and Canada. They have imaginative names, like compost cookies, cereal milk, and crack pie.
She says her love of baking goes back to her childhood.
“I grew up amongst matriarchs: grandmas and mums and aunts that love to cook and love to bake, so the kitchen was a big part of my upbringing,” Tosi recently told Business Insider during an interview at the Kellogg’s Cafe in Times Square, where she created a menu of inventive cereals last year. “Baked goods were sort of a vehicle for nurturing and care and love, and that’s [why] my happy place is in the kitchen baking.”
After culinary school, she started working with Momofuku’s David Chang, helping him create a dessert menu for his restaurants. Chang sensed that Tosi needed a project she could channel her energy into even further.
She opened Milk Bar in 2008. Tosi has since won two James Beard Awards and has written two cookbooks that explain how to make the Milk Bar treats that have become cult favourites.
“It’s been a wild ride,” Tosi said. “I was just staying true to who I was.”
One of the first items put on the menu at Milk Bar was an ice cream-like dessert called cereal milk. Tosi had created cereal milk as a type of panna cotta for Momofuku back in 2006.
“I was trying to make a flavour of milk that was delicious and interesting, but was more than milk,” she said.
“There’s just something about the flavour of milk that tastes like what’s left in your bowl, after you eat all the cereal out of it, that is infinitely gettable to anyone and everyone.”
Tosi was on to something.
Milk Bar’s original cereal milk recipe used Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. Kellogg’s, puzzled by the person who kept making such large orders of Corn Flakes, reached out to Tosi.
“I’m really passionate about using those staple grocery items where you don’t need a lot of fancy things to make a really incredible, show-stopping dessert,” she said. “There was something about my approach to creating and innovation, along with my love for cereal, that Kellogg’s was like, ‘Maybe this girl has a little something to her.'”
Tosi convinced Kellogg’s that it would be a great idea for them to work together. In 2014 they opened the Recharge Bar in New York City, and in summer 2016, they launched a Kellogg’s cafe in the heart of Times Square.
In the same vein as the creations at Milk Bar, the Kellogg’s cafe’s offerings go far beyond your average bowl of cereal and bananas.
“I found a way to put my creative lens over a bowl of cereal and make it something that was fun, accessible, gettable, but still quirky, and feeding the creative spirit of whoever was eating it,” she said.
On February 3, Tosi debuted the cafe’s winter menu, which includes three new bowls of cereal: Pucker Up, Baklava, and Do the Twist.
Pucker Up is based on a specific ingredient: grapefruit.
“I remember as a child my folks were super retro and would eat grapefruit for breakfast. Right? You have a half of grapefruit and a little bit of salt and that was a breakfast trend for a while. So I was like, ‘Alright, I gotta find a way to bring grapefruit into this,'” she said. Pucker Up combines grapefruit jam, tarragon, salt, and sugar in the raw.
Baklava is based on a deconstructed dessert. “It’s basically taking a dessert that I know and love, that’s very classic and everyone knows and thinking about it through the lens of a bowl of cereal,” Tosi said. Baklava is Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats, toasted walnuts, pistachios, honey and Kosher salt.
And for Do the Twist, Tosi combined milky coffee, the classic combination of chocolate and pretzels, and bright passion fruit.
Despite all of her training in the most sophisticated of restaurants, Christina Tosi is happiest when she is staying true to herself, whether it’s making cereal milk and compost cookies at Milk Bar, or combining ingredients for cereal bowls with Kellogg’s.
“I know how to do all of the most refined, fanciful, beautiful desserts but what makes me the most happy is feeding as many people as many cookies as possible,” she said.
Or cereal bowls for that matter.
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