“I’m waiting for the day [when] I get the call: ‘Our whole lobby smells like chocolate chip cake. We need you to fix it,’” says Christina Tosi, musing on potentially aroma-bombing the first floor of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
The veteran chef and baker is set to bring Milk Bar to Las Vegas in early 2017 [Editor’s note: the bakery soft-opened December 30], on the hotel’s second-floor next to the bakery’s sister restaurant, Momofuku. It’s Tosi’s West Coast debut—up until now you could only get one of her inventive desserts (like the cereal milk soft-serve ice cream, coated with cornflakes) in New York City, where the concept originated, as well as in Toronto and Washington, D.C.
While the passion in her eyes is clear when speaking of all the upcoming indulgences she’s about to offer Las Vegas, it seems she’s even more excited about opening a location on the Strip. Vegas Seven recently sat down with Tosi to talk menu items specific to Las Vegas, what inspired cereal milks and more.
You’re bringing Milk Bar to Las Vegas. What will set this location apart from the others?
Milk Bar Las Vegas will be the first time we’ve stretched our wings out West, which is superexciting. We just turned 8 years old [in] November. … We’re figuring out what Milk Bar is and what it means to people, and what it should mean to people. This is our first big jump. [Las Vegas is] a city that has a really big food scene where you have a crazy, excited, enthusiastic, captive audience.
Will the Las Vegas menu differ in any way? Will there be Vegas-specific treats?
When we open a store, it’s about being part of a city, a community. It’s about being something for the people. Right after opening is when the store starts to develop its own identity, and you start to understand what people love, what people are looking for that maybe we didn’t think about.
What we have planned is a slightly different approach and menu to what we have [at] the Milk Bars [on the] East Coast. We’re going to have four different flavors of soft-serve at this Milk Bar, which is more than any other store. Usually we only have one machine and two flavors. To open, we’ll have cereal milk [and] sweet potato pie soft-serve, which is awesome and our current holiday flavor. We will also have crack pie soft-serve, which is so naughty and fun and delicious, and then fruity cereal soft-serve.
You’re also launching a brand-new menu item that won’t be in any of the other Milk Bars.
They’re going to be called MilkQuakes. I was born in the Midwest and raised in Virginia; the custard stands and the ice cream store were part of my childhood, [along with] going to Baskin-Robbins or Dairy Queen. My mom grew up with dairy farmers all around, so frozen desserts [were] always the treat in our household. I was obsessed with Blizzards.
We were thinking, “What would our take on a … Blizzard [be]? What womuld that look like?” It’s going to be a MilkQuake. We’re still testing what the [MilkQuake] will actually look like, but in my mind, there’s definitely a Strawberry and Corn Quake, [which] is cereal milk with pickled strawberry jam and corn cookie bits blitzed in.
Cereal milk is such a fun and tasty concept. How did you conceptualize it?
In 2006 [or] 2007, we were opening Momofuku. I was helping get the restaurant organized [and] was also trying to figure out the desserts for the menu. Our equipment provider had ordered the wrong freezer and I needed ice cream for a fried apple pie dessert that I had planned. It needed the ice cream to be a proper, composed dessert, and it was unclear whether or not the freezer was going to screw me over.
I thought, “Alright, I’ll make a panna cotta.” I [needed] to flavor the milk [with] something and then set it. I tried probably a zillion different [flavors], and finally one night I was at a 24-hour bodega across the street from the Momofuku kitchen. … I was walking down the cereal aisle and I [thought], “What do you flavor milk with?” I was staring at all the cereal and was like, “This is either going to be a really good idea, or it’s going to be cheesy.”
I was a very picky eater as a kid. My mom always [said], “[You’ve] got to drink your milk,” and she would let me buy whatever flavor [of] cereal at the grocery [store] I wanted. She could pour as much milk over it as she wanted, [and] I had to bottoms-up. It’s funny how those things come full circle in a beautiful way.
Las Vegas has become a major dining destination. How do you see the city in the bigger picture?
[I’ll use] any excuse to spend a night here to wander around and see what’s opening up and see what’s on the menus. There are some incredible meals to be had, and for me, that was a driving force in making the decision to also bring Milk Bar to Las Vegas. The food scene isn’t just super-duper, high-end fine dining—though obviously you can get that in spades. It’s also everything else in between, in a fun way.
Can you name a few places in Las Vegas where you like to eat or drink?
Secret Pizza is always at the top of my list. I love going to China Poblano. It’s such an interesting and clever fusion. [José Andrés] plays both sides of both cuisines so true, in a lovely way. Have you been to Gordon [Ramsay]’s Fish & Chips? [Ramsay] is also my brother from another mother. The greatest British chef obviously knows how to do fish and chips, right?
I love to go to Lotus of Siam, if I have the time and the patience. That’s a take-down meal off the Strip and also a little bit of an adventure. I’m superexcited to go to Taco Bell Cantina; I told the team I would not go without them. From a dessert perspective, on my team-building to-do list is to go to Serendipity 3 and get the $1,000 sundae. [It’s] something that we would [typically] never do and is not who we are, but [is] a really fun celebration.
[Also], Carbone in Aria. We love Mario and everything that he and Mr. Torrisi do. Where I haven’t been that I really want to go is that old-school, hole-in-the-wall Italian joint that starts with a B—Battista’s. [And] being from the East Coast, we’re also obsessed with In-N-Out, so we always go there. High-end meals, low-end meals. You can’t beat In-N-Out.
You have two James Beard awards and one nomination under your belt. Vegas always seems to go unnoticed by the Foundation. Why do you think that is?
I was thinking about this earlier. “When did Vegas put itself on the food map?” When the chef from Lotus of Siam won her regional award … that, for me, was like, “This is real.” The industry, in general, has made some huge strides in the past few years. Part of that is what the internet—what online food publications and what access to information—has become, especially around food, and just in general, people’s interest in food. I think that Vegas will continue to get more attention and gain more momentum.
Are you working on any other projects in 2017?
I’m hopefully [going] to tie up [my] third cookbook, which right now will be called Milk Bar Cakewalk. It’s going to be all about cake—bundt cakes, pound cakes, cupcakes, layer cakes, wedding cakes, tiered cakes, sheet cakes. The first Milk Bar cookbook was all about the cult recipes for Milk Bar, but we couldn’t cover everything in the span of 200 pages. I wanted to do a cookbook that was focused on something [else].