Courtesy of Milk Bar / Winnie Au

The famed baker is also planning a “crazy ice cream program” at her first L.A. outpost.

Andy Wang
January 18, 2018

Christina Tosi has been spending a lot of time in L.A., so she’s been thinking a lot about chorizo.

“There will definitely be some sort of savory chorizo baked good on the menu,” the pastry chef says of her first L.A. Milk Bar, which she plans to open this spring on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood.

Tosi and I are at Best Girl, the new restaurant Michael Cimarusti opened at downtown L.A.’s Ace Hotel in late October. Tosi and I share a horchata morning bun, a miso butterscotch cookie and a strawberry almond croissant as we discuss what Milk Bar could become in L.A.

“We should have had our Milk Bar open out here by now, but I keep changing what I think it should be, what I want it to be, what making L.A. my home looks like and feels like and how that informs how I think Milk Bar should feel out here,” Tosi says.

One thing that’s certain is that this Milk Bar will be big. Tosi's largest retail store yet will be 3,000 square feet. 

"Our kitchen is going to be there," Tosi says. "It’s going to be a bigger, more fun—and not fun like an amusement park—place. It’s this capturing of lightning in a bottle, where we can play with stuff in the kitchen and you can see us. And then we can just put it out for sale. Like, ‘Alright, Chinese sausage focaccia, we’re selling it today.’”

Tosi wants West Hollywood’s Milk Bar to be a store with impromptu surprises.

“It’s not about tweeting it,” she says. “It’s just, come by and hang out and check out what we’re doing and let us know what you think. Come and take a baking class or come and make a friendship bracelet.”

If you’re in a hurry, you can pop by the side-service window for your grab-and-go coffee, soft-serve, cookies and Crack Pie. But if you want to linger with your friends or your kids, you’re free to watch Tosi and her team make 120 birthday layer cakes at a time.

“You don’t have to go on your phone and watch a video of how to do it,” Tosi says. “You can be a part of it. It’s not hidden from you. There are no boundaries here.”

Courtesy

Tosi points out that she could have partnered with a real estate developer who would have funded the build-out of a shiny new Milk Bar in L.A. But she had something different in mind.

“I was like, ‘I want a gritty one-story strip mall in the center of it all, in West Hollywood,’” Tosi says. “The space is an old laundromat and an old Baskin-Robbins. And the first Milk Bar [in New York’s East Village] was an old laundromat space.”

Tosi adds that the L.A. Milk Bar comes with its own little parking lot. It’s next to a Winchell’s donut shop.

This Milk Bar “feels like it should have been there for 10 years already,” Tosi says. “That’s what felt right. We’ll do what feels right, not what’s going to distract us.”

Tosi has been living at downtown’s Freehand L.A. hotel while she sorts out more permanent digs, possibly on the Eastside. She’s already pretty familiar with L.A. and its dining scene because she’s lived here for many months at a time in the last couple years while filming MasterChef.

So L.A.’s Milk Bar will be influenced by experiences like eating a chorizo quesadilla at Guisados. After our meeting, Tosi will walk over to downtown taqueria Sonoratown for a quick bite. She had just learned about Humberto “The Chori-Man” Raygoza, who started by selling his homemade chorizo out of coolers he carried around L.A. and has since gone on to supply restaurants like Salazar and Sonoratown.

“I just started following him on Instagram last night,” says Tosi, who gets excited when I tell her that she’s just a few blocks away from trying his chorizo at Sonoratown.

Tosi used to make a lot more savory pastries at Milk Bar in New York than she does now. The food business is a grind, and one day your Polish sausage maker in the East Village is gone and you’re not making miso Polish sausage canelés anymore.

But being in L.A opens up so many new possibilities. In L.A., you can, like Tosi did recently, go eat at a restaurant like Kismet and marvel at the freshness of spectacular winter tomatoes.

“Getting excited about something as simple as a really good tomato is not something that we can do at Milk Bar N.Y.C.,” Tosi says. “This is fricking awesome. Things are just better and fresher. I mean in New York, if you want to play with rhubarb, the season is three weeks if you’re lucky.”

I point out that we’re eating a strawberry croissant in January, which is is no big deal in L.A.

“They’re beautiful little strawberries, and the seeds are still in them, and it’s ripe and it’s not even a thing,” Tosi says. “In New York, it wouldn’t really exist on the menu. But if it did, it would cost like $14 because that’s how expensive it was to get an unripe strawberry to New York to ripen.”

The idea of this makes Tosi laugh.

Tosi has been busy eating and looking for inspiration around L.A. She’s gotten recommendations from local friends but also random people she runs into when she’s at a restaurant or bakery or store for the first time. She’ll happily ask strangers where she should go next. Tosi, whose dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan SoulFuel cookie just debuted at SoulCycle, is also busy making sure that her L.A. Milk Bar can handle all kinds of dietary restrictions.

“My worst nightmare is someone comes in and leaves with nothing because we don’t have something from an allergy standpoint,” she says.

Courtesy of Milk Bar

Tosi, who’s been a long-distance runner since high school, knows life is about balance. She knows that Milk Bar is an indulgence for many customers, but that it can also be part of an active lifestyle. That said, Milk Bar won’t ever become a full-on juice bar or matcha café. Milk Bar is where Tosi’s working on “a crazy ice cream program” for L.A. Milk Bar is where cake truffles and compost cookies bring in big crowds.

“Some chefs come in [to L.A.] and they’re like, ‘I gotta put avocado toast on the menu,’” Tosi says. “That’s not really the life I live.”

Tosi doesn’t chase trends. Instead, she hones in on the happy-making qualities of food.

“I think every time you eat something, it should bring you joy,” Tosi says.

She knows that L.A. is different than New York, so the way Milk Bar provides joy in West Hollywood will evolve.

“I’m obviously in a rush to open the store because I want it to be a living, breathing thing,” she says. “It will change.”

I ask if she might open more Milk Bars in L.A., perhaps with developers who could offer space in fancy shopping centers or new mixed-use complexes.

“That for me is a greater question of what our space in our wide wonderful world of food should be,” she says. “Does it lose its magic when there’s ten of them? That’s really a question that I ask myself every single day. For me, I’m just focusing on making Melrose home and then figuring out who we are and what we are with our sunny shades on in 80-degree weather in January and going from there.”