Q&A: Jeni Britton Bauer on the James Beard awards
We checked in with Jeni Britton Bauer, our very own ice cream rock star, who won a coveted James Beard Foundation award on Friday for her book, "Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home." She dished about her experience in NYC for the awards ceremony, including all the amazing things she got to eat.
Q: So in the food world, winning a James Beard is kind of like winning an Oscar. Was this award in the back of your mind at all as you were writing the book?
A: The James Beard Award exists to inspire people like me to do the best work we possibly can. So, yes, I did think about it--about living up to the highest standards, those of the James Beard Foundation.
However, those thoughts were few and far between because ultimately you can't write a book for someone else. We focused on getting the recipes right, on making the promise of beautiful ice cream and delivering. Writing this book was the hardest thing I've ever done--and if you saw my acknowledgements, then you know, it took a lot of people.
None of us focused on winning an award. In fact, it is around my neck right now, but I will soon take it off for good. This is an amazing award that I am unbelievably proud of, and we celebrated it fully, but it represents something we did yesterday. It does not represent who we are today or what we will do tomorrow. That's why we never put awards or press up in our stores--because all that matters is what we are doing right now, not what has already been done.
Q: Did you have an acceptance speech written out ahead of time?
A: I kept it very short. I had a small opening line and I thanked my publisher, my awesome editor, my agent, my team and my amazing husband, Charly. I will tell you that I honestly and completely did not think we would win. I was not worried about an acceptance speech. When they called the book, I lost my mind. Somehow, I pulled it together for the speech, but it was pretty animated.
Q: Tell us about what you were wearing.
A: I had a very cool outfit picked out. It was going to be a black pencil skirt, an electric/neon blue Diane Von Furstenberg shirt and super neon pink patent leather shoes with awesome stacked wooden heels. But I felt strange in the outfit and changed at the last minute to parachute pants with zippers, a slouchy linen blazer with big shoulder pads and leather sandals. I am glad I did it because I felt more comfortable and more myself.
Q: Which other James Beard winners were you excited to see prevail?
A: Gabrielle Hamilton for "Blood, Bones & Butter." She gave me a very big enthusiastic hug after the event (she has the book!) and I loved her book.
Brad Thomas Parsons for his book "Bitters." He wrote about us for Serious Eats and has been to Columbus. His book is amazing.
I was also very excited for Christina Tosi, who won for Rising Star Chef of the Year. I don't know her, but she is the kind of person who, if you read her book, you feel like you know. I admire her work ethic and her creativity. And it's good to see women win because the food world is, frankly, a bit long on dudes. It feels conspicuously out of balance.
Q: Which three people were you most excited to meet at the ceremony?
A: Gabrielle Hamilton. Marcus Samuelsson. Meredith Erickson (she wrote the Joe Beef book). All three were exceptionally warm people.
Q: What great things did you eat while in New York?
A: MEATBALLS! I have to go to The Meatball Shop now whenever I'm in town. We were there at 4 a.m. after the awards.
I also love this restaurant called Parm, so we ate meatballs there too and their amazing broccoli rabe (seated next to Jay-Z!). We also ate at Mas La Grillade, where we had grill-warmed oysters with thyme butter (we had way too many of those).
And at Parish Hall in Williamsburg, we had a four-hour dinner with about 20 people, one of whom was Harold McGee. The dinner was inspired by Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises." One of the courses included beef heart tartare, which threw me. I didn't think I'd like it. I LOVED it. We had amazing cocktails and wines during that dinner (and too much Pernod).
Charly and I also snuck up to the roof of our hotel and drank wine a few times. We had an excellent view of the new Freedom Tower (it's under construction, but they light all the lights every night. It's quite a sight). It was our quiet place during a very hectic, heavily scheduled five days.
Q: Have you eaten at either of this year's big JBF winning restaurants, Next in Chicago or Daniel Humm's Eleven Madison Park?
A: I have eaten at Eleven Madison Park. Not at Next, but I'd give my kingdom to do so.
Q: Any plans to write another book?
A: If I fall in love with an idea for another ice cream book, I'll write it. If not, I won't. I put everything I had into the first one, so the idea was not to have to write a second. But I have an idea that I'm working through and it will be very fun if it works.
Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams