Carrie Phillips Chats With Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi

Co-founding partner of strategic consulting and communications agency BPCM Carrie Ellen Phillips likes to say she won’t shut up about sustainability. And she works to infuse that mindset into the fashion, beauty and travel industries through the principles of a circular economy. Christina Tosi makes life a little sweeter through Milk Bar, that she founded, but also in a larger sense by bringing positivity and humankindness to everything she does. Carrie Ellen Phillips calls it her superpower.

@carrieellenphillips x @christinatosi

Carrie Ellen Phillps: First thing we have to talk about. It has nothing to do with what I want to talk to you about but maybe it does. Are these fucking candy snaps? Tosi, are you kidding?

Christina Tosi: Have you had the peppermint bark snaps?

Carrie: No, I have not yet had the peppermint barks.

Tosi: I have to send you some peppermint next. We were trying to figure out, and I guess this was like two years ago, three years ago. It’s funny, I definitely had a dream about snaps somewhere between being awake and sleeping. I dreamt of candy bar snaps, but I am trying to figure out a cookie that was different from the cookies we make but still complimentary. I have a very specific perspective on the kind of cookie I want to eat and therefore, I wanted to make our equivalent of a layered cake cookie. I think that’s probably the best way to put it. And anyways we have been making these snaps for a few years, but we typically make them in the spring. And they don’t get a ton of traction. It’s really hard to make something new that rivals the good stuff, and I’m learning it takes about two years for something to really gain traction, to the extent that it’ll give one of the bestsellers a run for their money, but the snaps is like one of my new favorite formats to create within.

Carrie: It’s so interesting because you and I don’t know each other well but I feel like we got to know each other a little better recently, and you always seem very instinctive but very thoughtful. Even what you just said is very instinctual in terms of snaps. People are going to love these snaps—we just have to figure out the right snap, and then you’re talking about comparing them against something you’ve made for two years so it’s very thoughtful.

Tosi: I’m so into it. We made this pie when we first opened called the candy bar pie. That was basically a slightly-lighter-but-just-as-candy-like version of that snap in a pie form. And we loved it, of course.

Carrie: Well, it was one of my favorites. I still remember candy bar pie.

Tosi: Okay, then you totally get the candy bar snap.

Carrie: Yeah, I mean, also peanut butter is my Jesus. I’m actually much more of like a savory person and I have the Milk Bar Life cookbook, which obviously skews a little more savory, so it’s perfect for me. Desperation Nachos gave me a real permission to put cheese on top of anything that could hold it and I could eat it with whatever ends of salsa were in my fridge and whatever other potential toppings.

Tosi: I eat Desperation Nachos here in LA once a week, and it’s usually with Cool Ranch Doritos and string cheese that I’ve tried to string out.

I want people to feel that there’s a place for them, that they’re meant to be here, that on some level, some part of them is understood.

Carrie: Let’s talk really quickly about the Bake Club. So one of the things that you developed during the time of COVID is Bake Club. You gave your community this beautiful thing. Am I right that you did this for 110 days straight until you decided to be a bit more sane and do it once a week?

Tosi: Yeah.

Carrie: Can you talk about Bake Club a little bit? The name obviously says it all—it’s a club where you bake stuff but it’s really this sort of community love bomb.

Tosi: Oh, I love that. That’s such a sweet way to put it. I was maybe a week or two deep into quarantine, and we were worried about the state of the world. I kept trying to keep the board calm and sane and trying to say, hey, we’re in a time right now where everyone’s a bit uncertain about what’s happened, I just need you to trust me and trust the team, and with the team I could hear a variety of different tones of their voices from people that I’ve worked with for a very long time. And what I came to realize was that everyone was freaking out their own way, and everyone was trying to figure out how to cope. And there was so much emotion, and I take a lot of pride in trying to be a person that you can depend on. I realized that there were all these people that I love in my very close professional world that I wanted to figure out how to show up for. And I took that and I blew it up in my mind a little bit more, then I thought, “What do I do?” And one of my favorite pastimes in my childhood was clubs. Starting clubs, joining clubs. What I found with my board and what I found with my team was that people just needed a regular consistent touch point of positivity. They needed a place where they were allowed to be scared and be worried and give different tones of voices. They needed a place to be able to talk about what they were worried about. And I found that we connected most over where you are right now, what you are doing, what you are wearing, are you wearing the sweat pants you’ve been wearing for four days?

And this idea of showing up every single day at 2 p.m. in a very come-as-you-are spirit, and I think it just became something for people—and to be quite frank it was also something for me because it gave me the reminder of showing up for people in real life. It gave me a commitment that kept me sharp and kept me equally as positive. And it was fun. I was developing recipes nonstop. I get whenever everyone talks about gaining weight during COVID, my weight gain was Bake Club. And it was really interesting and exciting to see all different ages, all different areas of the US, and what started to happen really quickly over time and that still remains is a community of people that cheer each other on. You can be a total failure in the kitchen and feel freaking great about it. Yeah, you can have a really bad day but a hilarious time and through one hour a day you don’t feel alone. These people are showing up for each other and creating friendships. Now we do it Mondays at 2 p.m. and the whole spirit of it’s Monday and we’re gonna take back Monday. Monday doesn’t get a negative connotation anymore and we’re gonna look forward to Monday.

Carrie: That’s awesome. One of the things that I grew to admire about you over the weeks that we were planning a friend’s surprise quarantine lockdown COVID birthday, and you said, “You know what? This is really fucking hard. But it feels really good to show up for people.” And then on Monday, you said something about showing up with your whole heart and to me that ‘wholehearted show up’ is your personal superpower. It comes out in baked goods, it comes out in Bake Club. Do you think that that’s something that you have cultivated or did you come out this way, and you’re here to teach us how?

Tosi: Great question. There are going to be moments where I am more human than perhaps one would believe is appropriate in a board meeting, or I’m going to be more serious than one would believe needs to happen in a group of friends. The seriousness, the humanity, waxes and wanes and then I think just in general I want people to feel. I want people to feel like they’re not alone. I want people to feel that there’s a place for them, that they’re meant to be here, that on some level, some part of them is understood. We have to be able to make fun of ourselves and we have to be able to make fun of things. There’s a make-things-funny-to-keep-them-real mentality. But it starts with you, everything that you want out of life or that you want out of human connection, starts with you.

Carrie: You talked about being gentle with yourself. You are clearly somebody who is okay being out in front and leading and

Tosi: For me it’s little pieces every day. The little moments every day. I like to go for walks, I like to eat Cheetos in bed, I like to do the laundry or organize something. I kind of just try and find a thing that’s going to make me feel more centered and more sane that’s not always the same thing every day. It’s less about the bigger question of, what do you need to do to be happy, but I sort of say to myself, what do you need to do today for your own brain or creativity? It’s still a moment, and it still belongs to me, and I think that deciding what to do with those moments, big or small, makes a really big difference. And they’re my sanity. They remind me that I also have to show up for myself, it’s not just about showing up for everyone else.

Carrie: I love the way you’re talking about it because it’s such a manageable takeaway for anybody. It is one of those things where we’re all on the same playing field. We’re all feeling somewhat the same way. We’re all trapped and we kind of can’t escape whatever it is that we’re stewing in. So, it is about these little moments of connection or disconnection like you’re talking about or connecting internally.

Tosi: Yeah, it’s having those little moments of relationships with yourself. I can do whatever I want to do with my time. And it’s sort of magic. The magic that we create with ourselves does not always have to look as glamorous and as luxurious as we think. It’s not about lowering our expectations, it’s about reframing the lens through which we see it. What is exciting about butter and flour and sugar? Well, it depends on how you look at it, if you look at it with a certain lens, that seems boring as hell. But if you look at it with the right lens you’ll see the potential.

Carrie: You’ve been away from home on a super secret strike mission. What are you most looking forward to when you get back?

Tosi: I’m looking forward to my own space. I’m looking forward to being able to ask myself, “What do you want to do today?” I’m excited to go live on Bake Club again on Monday. I’m excited to sleep in my own bed, to go for walks on my corner, to sort of rediscover all the things that are my daily routine. And honestly, I’m just excited for the holidays. For me it’s like the time that I get to bake more. I get to feed more people. And I think it’s a time where our people have spent time in the kitchen and spending time with food. That very magical tool that I love so much I made it into a profession of food and dessert. The spirit of it that we put into it and that we get out of it is like the spirit of what can save this freaking nation and this world.

You can be a total failure in the kitchen and feel freaking great about it.