Jeni Britton Bauer, owner of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, didn't grow up loving ice cream. For her, it was actually a way to bring together her love of pastry and art, and a passion for blending perfumes. She was studying art history and fine art at Ohio State University and working at a bakery when she decided to start making ice cream. She opened Scream Ice Cream in Columbus, Ohio, in 1996, then opened the first Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams in 2002. Since then she's opened scoop shops in six states and written two cookbooks, including "Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home," which earned a 2012 James Beard Award.
Bauer recently opened a scoop shop in Los Feliz. There you'll find her famous salty caramel and yogurts, as well as flavors from the Color Collection, limited-edition flavors inspired by the colors of Matisse artworks. And even if you walk in knowing what you want, Bauer says you can have as many samples as you'd like, just to be sure.
What was the first ice cream you ever made? For the first batch, I had a cayenne essential oil, but I didn't have anything to do with it, so I mixed that into chocolate ice cream with some cinnamon oil and made a spicy chocolate. The next one I did was wild berry lavender. Then the salty caramel. I worked at a French bakery at the time. The chef was from Brittany and had this really heavy accent. He was saying the caramel was salty, which is not actually correct. It's not salty, it's salted. But I didn't know that at the time, this was '95 or '94, and so when I started making ice cream in '96, I had it as salty caramel and made it extra salty. That's what put us on the map all those years ago.
What's your first memory of eating ice cream? I lived in Germany when I was very little, and I have photographs of me eating ice cream. But you know, I didn't actually like ice cream that much. I'm a sweets person, but in the hierarchy of sweets, ice cream was always very low on my list. My grandmother would make jam, and that would give me an excuse to eat ice cream, and we would eat it before bed. It wasn't until I started making ice cream that I understood the potential — and this idea of building perfumes, flavors and using really great ingredients.
Ultimate sundae? I like nuts on a sundae. We have these beautiful salted peanuts. I love vanilla ice cream with just toppings on it. We're doing a blackstrap molasses, which has a very deep black tar flavor to it, with our caramel. Then we mix it with huge whole Virginia peanuts and put that over the vanilla ice cream. That or the Bangkok peanut ice cream with caramel sauce and a banana.
If you're not eating ice cream, what are you eating? Sometimes in my test kitchen, we're eating so much ice cream, so we have to have, like, potato chips. I get serious and very severe hankerings for curry — spicy curry. Thai curries, various Indian curries, anything heavily spiced, savory food, meaty food. And beer. I just love beer and ice cream.
What's one wacky flavor you thought might not work but did? There are lots of them. I've done cedar wood. One of my favorite flavors is with balsam of Peru — it has the flavor of vanilla and pipe smoke. I blended that with more vanilla and cedar wood, and that's kind of a crazy thing to put out there — like a wood ice cream. But people really flipped for that.
1954 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 928-2668, www.jenis.com