An unlikely beginning

Milk Bar founder discovered her passion after JMU

Photograph by Daniel Krieger

SUMMARY: Christina Tosi (’02) left JMU with a bachelor's degree in applied mathematics and Italian, but went on to become the founder, owner and chef of Milk Bar, a bakery with a creative spin on traditional desserts.

By Amanda Christian

Christina Tosi (’02) entered college with plans to become an engineer, but she quickly realized it wasn’t right for her.

After a year at the University of Virginia, she transferred to JMU and immediately enrolled in the Semester in Florence program. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics and Italian in three years. Unsure of her next move, she had to reevaluate her passions. 

“So, I just asked myself the simple question: what is it that you’re passionate about that you want to make into a living?’” Tosi said recently on NPR’s “How I Built This” podcast. “And it was this one thing that I did every single day, habitually, without thinking about it—bake cookies.”

Tosi is an example of someone who didn’t have a straightforward path from college to career success. While JMU prepares students to pursue their selected majors, it also prepares them to go out and find what they’re passionate about.

After graduation, Tosi moved to New York City and enrolled in the French Culinary Institute’s pastry arts program. There, she connected with David Chang, owner of the Momofuku restaurant group. 

Chang eventually entrusted the dessert menu to Tosi, marking the beginning of a special partnership. After serving as a pastry chef at Chang’s Momofuku Ssäm Bar for two years, Tosi ventured out on her own, opening Milk Bar, a bakery with a creative spin on traditional desserts, in Manhattan in 2008.

Tosi won the James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef of the Year award in 2012 and the James Beard Foundation Outstanding Pastry Chef award in 2015. She was listed in Crain’s New York Business’ “40 under 40” in 2016. 

In 2015, Tosi joined MasterChef as the first female judge in franchise history. She stayed on the show, as well as MasterChef Junior, for two seasons alongside other renowned chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Graham Elliot. 

With 17 stores in six cities across the United States, Milk Bar continues to grow along with Tosi’s reputation as a world-class chef. She has written two cookbooks, Momofuku Milk Bar and Milk Bar Life, and has been featured in Food and Wine Magazine, Glamour, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times

Published: Monday, November 11, 2019

Last Updated: Tuesday, November 12, 2019

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