Why Milk Bar's Christina Tosi Is My Creative Inspiration

Of all the content to consume in these isolated times, there is one genre that I can’t pull myself away from, and that is: all things cooking. Whether it’s the cinematic experience of Chef’s Table, the drama of a Top Chef challenge, or the suspense of watching Chrissy Tiegen cook with one hand while filming with the other in her Instagram stories - I am all in. Culinary shows have always been a source of joy for me, but especially during quarantine.

Regardless of what I am watching or reading, I usually stumble upon inspiration for my own creative path. In my journal I keep a list of people who I admire for different reasons. Dave Chappelle - for his masterful ability to twist insightful observations of the world around knee-slapping punch lines. And for fearlessly leaving the Chappelle Show when it no longer suited him.

Alicia Keys - she was a classically trained musician signed to Columbia Records at just 15 years old. Aside from her extraordinary talent, she also had the wisdom to not let the industry mold her into something she was not: another boppy teenage hit machine. Her label rejected countless songs that she had written, so she refused to release an album with them. She did not put out an album until six years later underneath a different label, Arista Records. Songs in A Minor went on to win five grammy awards, with the same music Columbia Records originally rejected.

In writing down these creative inspirations, I’ve noticed a pattern. I am interested in people who have found success by following their intuition instead of the status quo.

That said, it’s no surprise that I’ve added Christina Tosi’s name to the list in my journal. By the end of her Chef’s Table episode, I was both in tears and on my way to her Los Angeles Milk Bar storefront a few weeks ago. Her story will likely resonate with anyone trying to create an authentic career path, because it is a story of trusting in yourself and your abilities.

If you haven’t watched the episode, I suggest you swiftly exit this post and watch it before reading on.

As I munched on Milk Bar’s most infamous treats - soft serve with cornflakes, birthday cake truffles, and Milk Bar Pie - I reflected on the episode and why it evoked such an emotional response in me.

It’s true that dessert has a tendency to do that anyway, but more than that, I was moved by Christina’s ability to cook without letting ego, doubt, or fear get in the way. She is a highly trained and educated chef who worked in fine dining for over a decade. She could have easily tossed out the idea of making cornflake based desserts, perhaps even laughed it off. Instead she approached the idea with curiosity, and served that dessert to other highly trained chefs without fear of their response. In the end, she was able to create something unique, authentic, and monumentally successful.

I think that no matter what industry you work in, the creative process is the same. As a photographer, it can be a challenge to create work that is uniquely your own while also feeling the pressure to appeal to the masses. But when I look at other visionaries, whether they are a comedian, a musician, or a chef, their stories are a reminder that it is possible to do both.

My biggest takeaway from Christina’s story was the reminder that being authentic in the creative process is key to producing work that is truly meaningful and special.

I expressed all of these thoughts as I drove back home from Milk Bar with my boyfriend, Ben. After explaining how inspired I was by her story he said, “Oh, that episode just really made me want ice cream.”

And yeah, I guess you can get that from watching Christina’s episode too.

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