Olivia Dish

Bubblegum and Ice Cream

In Local Flavor, Markets, Ohio, Sweets on June 16, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Bubblegum artist in the news

Surely, I reasoned, artist Ben Harben must have a well-developed sweet tooth.  He makes portraits out of bubblegum, most of which he chews (the gum not the finished portraits) himself.

So when he offered to introduce me to the best ice cream in Columbus, Ohio, possibly the world, I said yes–rather loudly and a little too eagerly.  (Well, I would have said yes to pretty much anyone because I am an ice cream fanatic.)  Lucky for me, the man is not easily frightened by excessive enthusiasm.  The quest was on!

Ben–who doesn’t own a car and apparently offsets his sugar intake by walking–led the way through downtown Columbus to the North Market.  This indoor market houses 30-some local food vendors, sort of a local food mall, in the very best sense.  It is open seven days a week, with a farmers’ market every Saturday morning.  There’s been a market at the site since the 1870s.


Jeni's menu board

Inside, one of those local food vendors is Jeni’s Ice Cream….the amazing ice cream that Ben had been telling me about all day.


A few of Jeni's ice cream flavors

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, yes, lives up to the name with both usual and unusual flavors made using fresh local ingredients.  (Jeni writes about her flavor inspirations here.)  I tried salty caramel and bourbon butter pecan, but settled on  a dark chocolate that was dense but not too sweet, which is what I like and not easy to achieve in ice cream. (Difficult because sugar enhances scoopability. If you care about that kind of thing, read this.)

Ben went for the unusual–grapefruit hibiscus–and insisted I take a spoonful.  It was not tart or cloying as I feared it might be but lightly sweet and creamy.


Ben Harben with his work

When I first heard Ben was a bubblegum artist, I thought maybe he glued gumballs to cardboard or something.

No, he chews, then smears the gum onto a canvas to make portraits.  Here’s one…and you can see him at work on this video.  He was on Letterman and made a bubblegum portrait of Biff.

So the moral of the story:  keep an open mind and trust the artist with the sweet tooth.


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