By my fifth tasting — the passion fruit frozen yogurt — I no longer feel overwhelmed. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams can do that to you. Queen city cayenne? Riesling poached pear? These are not your traditional ice-cream flavors. With the help of store associate Liz Dickson and store manager Kyle Einerson at the Clintonville, Ohio location, I work my way through Jeni’s unique list of flavors.

I start with the Orchard Vanilla Macaroon. The Ugandan vanilla bean ice-cream is sandwiched between two macaroons with a dollop of black currant sauce in the middle. Next is the One Night In Bangkok sundae. Jeni’s Bangkok peanut ice-cream is covered in chocolate and caramel sauces, and topped with pecans and whipped cream. It’s finished with a waffle cone fortune cookie.

An attention to detail, and a love for local ingredients, sets Jeni’s apart. Besides the ever-changing seasonal flavors, Jeni’s offers a list of signature flavors. Salty caramel is a popular favorite, but pistachio and honey nut is my new number one. Don’t let the unusual names scare you from trying something like Wild-berry Lavender. This is ice-cream at its purest form: homemade, refreshing and delicious.

Jeni Britton Bauer, the president and founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, started her business at Columbus’ North Market in 2002. Now Bauer has nine Ohio stores, one in Nashville, dozens of retail partners and a new cookbook, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams At Home. Bauer took a break from her book tour to answer some questions by e-mail.

GALO: When did you decide to make ice cream professionally?

Jeni Britton Bauer: Flavor drew me to ice-cream. I’d studied art in college and worked in a bakery, but not until I mixed essential oil of cayenne with a store-bought chocolate ice-cream and served it to party guests who went crazy (“It’s hot! It’s cold!”), was I inspired to make ice-cream from scratch. When I started, everywhere I looked there were ingredients and opportunities to use ice-cream to explore flavor, history, art, and various cultures. Through unconventional ingredients I took every trip I could and to this day I’m still traveling via ice-cream.

GALO: You opened your first store in 2002. How did people respond?

JB: I opened Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in fall 2002 in the North Market in Columbus, Ohio. The day we opened was the day of the Michigan vs. Ohio State football game, which is essentially the Super Bowl in Columbus, Ohio. The whole town comes to a screeching halt. We thought it would be a nice, quiet day to test everything and sell a cone to the odd person who wasn’t afflicted with Buckeye Fever, but there was a line out the door.

GALO: Your ice-cream is described as artisan. Is the term becoming overused?

JB: I think “artisan” still describes how we make ice-cream, yogurts, and sorbets. We make them by hand in small batches using only the best-available ingredients from local and international sources. There’s an art to doing what we do, but when “artisan” is used to describe everything on the shelves in groceries or on restaurant menus, the word loses its wallop. In the end, I just want what we make to be called delicious.

GALO: You recently published a cookbook. How did that idea come about?

JB: In 2008, Food & Wine published my recipe for making ice-cream with a home machine, and planted the seed for the idea for Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home.  Soon I had an agent and a publisher, and I was testing hundreds of recipes using only a home machine. I wrote the book, our in-house designed it, and Stacy Newgent and a couple of other friends did the photos for it.

GALO: Your first store outside of Ohio is in Nashville. Why Nashville?

JB: My husband, Charly, has family there, and I love spending time in Nashville. The place has such a great environment for living, working, and doing something from the ground up and doing it the way you want to do it. There’s a fantastic creative community and vibe throughout the city.

Tennessee is a wonderful state for agriculture. Establishing a shop there is going to help us make connections to farmers so we can get in-season crops a bit earlier than we can get them in Columbus, so we can make things like Strawberry Buttermilk ice-cream earlier in the summer when our fans are clamoring for it after a long winter.

GALO: Where do you find the inspiration for your flavors?

JB: Flavor is what surrounds you. I find flavor inspirations by following my own curiosities.  I start with what is around me and growing in the Midwest (sweet corn, black walnuts, spice bush berries, fresh strawberries, stone fruits); what’s happening around the world (the Royal Wedding inspired the Royal Wedding collection); or some ingredient that strikes me. I try to use the flavor to tell a story, whether it’s a story of the main ingredient or a story I might have from my childhood that dovetails with an ingredient.

GALO: Do you have a favorite flavor?

JB: One flavor I love all year is Lemon Frozen Yogurt. It’s zesty, always refreshing, and pairs insanely well with everything from seasonal berries to single-origin dark chocolate.

GALO: How do you grow without losing the company’s mission?

JB: By not sacrificing flavor for profit. Everything we do centers on flavor and it’s a challenge to make ice-cream without stabilizers and artificial colors. Growth is great, but growth for the sake of growth is not what we’re about. None of our shops [are] a franchise, including our East Nashville shop, and we have zero desire to franchise. We want to be able to control what goes into the ice-cream, and most important, how it’s served in our shops. The experience of eating the ice-cream, and learning the story behind it, is very important to me.

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