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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Momofuku Milkbar in San Francisco

If New York comes all the way to San Francisco, you get your ass to the landing dock to greet New York with open arms.

You tell your boss, friend, husband, dog, whathaveyou that, come hell-or-high-water, you need to drop what you are doing to be at the front of this line.

My first glimpse of the coveted bounty turned me into a sugar-grabbing feisty greedy little rapscallion. I felt feverish and downright selfish. It was a quick transformation that surprised even myself because I am not known for having a sweet tooth at all. I mean, I had kale-apple-lemon-ginger juice for breakfast.

But my eyes glazed over and I morphed into a sugar-crazed demon (before any actual sugar had even crossed my lips). My friends wanted to get some savory lunch at Fatted Calf, and in no polite tone at all, I growled “I’m having sugar for lunch, thank you. With a side of sugar”. Say again?

crack pie
compost cookies
blueberry cream cookie
cornflake-toasted marshmallow-chocolate chip cookie
chocolate chocolate cookie
corn cookie

Everyone, including yours truly, was reaching for the crack pie and the famed compost cookie – a veritable mash up of chocolate, cornflakes, pretzels, chips and coffee grounds – all the things that you might shovel into your mouth after a bad break up and have completely lost all rationality. But at the end of the line, a golden ray of sunshine caught my eye. Corn cookies.

It looked like a standard sugar cookie, but unapologetically yellow, signaling its solid foundation of corn and butter. Corn. And Butter. Say it with me. It’s Thanksgiving and we’re in this together.

Don’t go all chocolate chip on me and be tempted to question her logic to put corn in a cookie (or ice cream, while we’re at it). Surrender to a mouthful of old-fashioned spoon bread, rich with sweet corn flavor and studded with gritty stone-ground corn meal. Compress that corn pudding flavor into a cookie with a thick, dense chew that can only be achieved by patiently chilling your dough. I made myself dizzy wondering How can this one bite be so full of flavor? Obviously (it’s not obvious at all), it’s a no brainer to use corn flour and mix it with sugar, eggs, flour and salt until it resembles a thick scoop of wet sand. But Tosi stretches her brain to fit in even more corn flavor by turning dehydrated corn into corn powder. Zing! Houston, do you copy? Thank you, corn. Thank you, Tosi.

You can tell that this cookie didn’t achieve its perfect state of flavor and texture (oh my god, the texture) because Tosi waved around sticks of cheap grocery-store grade butter and generic all-purpose flour. No, this takes mindful effort (and a lot of it). This kind of magic is unmistakably the result of sleepless nights, large cups of creativity and espresso shots, and baking boot camp at 2 am (when all the best work happens). Sissys need not apply.

These bakery masterpieces are the brainchild of respectful collaboration between hardy people who push each other to be better, to do more, to work smarter. To create something out of nothing and to actually create the challenges they want to learn how to overcome; it’s the honest path to improvement. Hot damn, that’s what I call inspiring!

David Chang warns you: “Don’t let her nice demeanor and southern charm fool you; underneath she is a ruthless killer . . . just like her recipes in this book, where deceptively simple flavors and ingredients combine in ways that make grown men whimper. Resistance to her sugar manifesto is futile.”

I whimpered, all right.

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