Jeni Britton Bauer Talks Music, History And (Of Course) Ice Cream

The founder of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams on where she finds sweet inspiration

Welcome to The Tastemakers, a series in which we chat with the most talented, connected and influential people in the world of food and drink.

"I wanted to be a perfumer, and I started using ice cream to carry scent," Jeni Britton Bauer says of her unusual beginnings as an ice cream maker.

Since opening her first ice cream business back in 1996, Britton Bauer has introduced the world to some of the most innovative and delicious ice creams out there, from brown butter almond brittle to wildberry lavender, through her nationally known line of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams. She's also written two cookbooks and won a James Beard Award. All of this, she says, is "in service to the idea that truly exceptional American ice cream is the best in the world, and we want to set the standard for it."

We chatted with the Columbus, Ohio-based Britton Bauer about the ice cream flavors she adores, the music that inspires her and the foods she secretly can't cook.

If you had to describe yourself in an ice cream flavor, what would it be?

"Ultramarine Blue Buttermilk Frozen Yogurt. The whole range of our Buttermilk Frozen Yogurts (or BFYs) is a reference to Roald Dahl. I'm a huge fan of his, as I was one of those kids who either came into this world a grown-up or never did grow up.

Also, the scent of Ultramarine Blue BFY is magical and meant to be a secret. It's a blend of perfume-grade extracts and wild blueberries. Everyone experiences it slightly differently."

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

"Tallulah Bankhead. I would die."

Who was the best boss you ever had?

"Our customers."

What's the best bite you've had in recent memory?

"The fire-grilled fish taco at Rick Bayless's new spot, Leña Brava, in Chicago's West Loop."

Who would be at your dream dinner party (living, dead or fictional)?

"I'm a history tourist—rather than looking for artifacts, I am looking for souvenirs, mostly emotional. I am forever trying to hang with historical figures, because what they experienced inspires me to make ice cream the way I make ice cream. So if I had to choose right now who to have dinner with, I'd probably say 30-year-old Alexander Hamilton. Just the two of us, a carafe of cider and a saddle of mutton."

What's one food or dish you secretly can't cook?

"I can't bake bread—not for lack of trying."

If you had $20 to spend in any city, where would you go, and what would you do?

"I'd stay right here in Columbus, because $20 goes a long way. You can head to the North Market, buy a bottle of rosé from Barrel & Bottle, dark-crusted bread from Amy at Omega bakery, killer butter or cheese from Mike at Curds & Whey, and strawberries from growers outside the market. Set up camp on the giant porch outside the North Market, and you will easily make friends with passersby. By sunset, you'll have 10 people around the table and 10 more bottles of wine. I'll end up scooping ice cream (my first shop is in the North Market), and we'll be conspiring on some idea or another."

What's the soundtrack to your cooking/creating?

"I've fallen off the Hamilton cliff. I listen to something until it floods my veins and molecules with every drop of emotion, and I have squeezed every drop of inspiration out of it. But, for making marshmallows or thinking time, I switch to Mozart. Or harps. It helps me block everything else out."

What would you eat for your last meal?

"A pork schnitzel sandwich with yellow mustard on a potato bun with a pickle chip on top and Midwestern whole strawberry pie with zwieback crust for dessert."

What's the best piece of advice someone's ever given you?

"Put your name on it. It makes you work harder, faster, bolder, prouder. You own it differently when your reputation is on the line. Your stamina never wanes for making things better, tinkering, tweaking, perfecting. And it makes you smile more."