Every Monday night of the fall semester, Harvard University offers a series of weekly lectures on Science and Cooking, inviting some of the industry's greatest contributors to offer demonstrations on the science behind the food they create. Last night's lecture featured Momofuku Milk Bar's Christina Tosi.
I was introduced to Tosi's creative concoctions by my first chef, who, after months of telling me to read her book, gave it to me for Christmas. Lured in by her colorful photos and humor, I read the book like a novel, consuming all 11 chapters in one night. I was able to finally visit one of her Milk Bar stores last April while in New York for work, and I have since determined to make a Milk Bar appearance every time I am in the city.
Tosi is known best for taking unique spins on classic pastries, inspired by the flavors of her childhood -- which appears to have contained copious amounts of candy, sugary cereals, and boxed cakes. Her humorous tone and reflections of childhood captivated her audience last night as well. Though the subject of her lecture was the power of emulsions, she also reminded her listeners that the most important thing a baker can do is remind her customers of home. Upon sharing the reasons behind her excessive use of vanilla extract, Tosi said "Vanilla reminds you -- the flavor, scent -- of your mother, aunt, uncle, neighborhood bakery that you already have a relationship with." And connecting with her customers by reminding them of that relationship is the key to Tosi's success: "There is nothing worse than food that is too smart for you -- there's no connection to your food. There is no point if you cannot connect with your food. If theres not a story or a connection you make, then that moment is gone and the food is forgotten."
For two hours, Tosi captivated her audience. Whether explaining the purpose for a ten-minute creaming process, exalting the wonders of European-style butter, or walking the audience through her creative process, Tosi remained aware of the power of memory in connecting people to food.
Afterwards, I had the honor of meeting Chef Tosi and having her sign my book. And hopefully before long, I will get to spend a day in her kitchen to see for myself how she connects science and memories to create desserts unlike anyone else in the business.