Cookie Art and Professional Trail Running Dreams

Brittany and Justin Charboneau are making dreams come true through cookies and trail running. Brittany, a.k.a. The Funny Runner, is an accomplished professional trail runner sponsored by The North Face. She is coming off of several recent race wins and challenges including a first place at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, first place at the Run Through Time marathon, Disneyland “Dopey Challenge” record and an official Guinness World Record for the fastest half marathon dressed as a crustacean (1:19:20).

The Funny Runner currently has her sights set on the more serious goal of making the U.S. Team scheduled compete in the inaugural World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Thailand this coming November. Watch our recent video interview with Brittany above for more details on her trail running background and current goals.

Justin (a.k.a. Jusband to The Funny Runner) is a professional “cookier” or cookie maker and decorator who owns and operates his business SugarTats Cookie Company out of the Charboneau’s home in Denver, CO. He designs specialty cookies for events such as weddings, graduations, sporting games, holidays, as well as special order custom designs. Justin is a triathlete, and since meeting Brittany, has become a trail runner.

In the following interview, I catch up with Justin about his life as a cookier married to a professional runner. We explore how Justin created his cookie business and how the worlds of artistic cookie design and trail running merge.

[TAYTE POLLMANN] When did you start designing cookies?
[JUSTIN] The cookies started when Brittany and I hosted a “space-themed dinner” for some friends. I Googled “Space-themed desserts” and found gingerbread cookies decorated like astronauts. I made these cookies and it ignited a creative spark in me. Everyone at the dinner appreciated the cookie art and it made me realize how I could bring joy to others through something as simple as decorating cookies. Seeing joy in people is so special and is still the whole reason I do it today. Similar to many small businesses, people asked if I could do cookies for birthdays and other small events and my business took off from there. I started making cookies in November 2019, and by April 5, 2020, I launched my company SugarTats Cookie Co.

[TAYTE] What is your background in culinary/art professions?
[JUSTIN CHARBONEAU] I never imagined myself as a baker or cookier. I had an art background from high school. I took every art class I could from drawing, photography, pottery, painting and fell in love with all of it. After high school, I pursued music and never really had any exposure in the culinary world until I started baking and decorating cookies in 2019.

Justin Charboneau

Photo: Justin and Brittany Charboneau.

[TAYTE] Where do cookies fit into your diet and do you ever get tired of cookies?
[JUSTIN] Thankfully, I have gotten to the point where I don’t eat that many of my cookies. I gained 19 pounds over the pandemic from drinking beer while I was making cookies and eating all the cookies I messed up on. I’ve since cut back on eating too many of my cookies for health reasons, but every time I do eat one I still really enjoy them. I’ve developed my own cookie recipe over trial and error that is very delicious.

[TAYTE] Could you talk about the craft of creating something that tastes good but is also beautiful artistically?
[JUSTIN] Two of the highest compliments I receive are that my cookies are so beautiful that the person doesn’t want to eat them, which is amazing to hear from an artistic standpoint. I put a lot of time and detailed thought into what I do. The other compliment is how delicious the cookies are. I want them to be pretty but I also want people to think they’re delicious and to eat one after another. Finding that balance has been really enjoyable.

Photo: Steve Doran Photography.

[TAYTE] You were featured on Season 4 of the Christmas Cookie Challenge competition on the Food Network. How did this come about?
[JUSTIN] I watched season three of the Christmas Cookie challenge and before that I had no idea that there were professional “cookiers” or people who did this for a living. I reached out to someone on the show and I told him how watching him make cookies on the show was inspiring my own cookie journey. I didn’t want anything from him, but I wanted to let him know he was inspiring me. He responded and a few days later I got a phone call from the casting agency of the show saying that he had recommended me for the next season. I was only three months into making cookies and had been invited to audition for the show.

[TAYTE] Was being featured on a food show the experience you expected it would be?
[JUSTIN] Yes and no. Yes from the pressure and excitement standpoint. I couldn’t believe I was actually doing this and all of that was up to par. I knew some of the bakers from the show and followed them on Instagram and it was fun to see myself with them baking.

What I didn’t expect was all the waiting and sitting. There are interviews before and after we bake cookies and 95% of the filming never makes the final cut. It’s fun to see insights into how the production team works and how they film to capture every moment, in case they need to use it, then trim the content down for clarity. I had eight or nine cameras on me at all times. It was fascinating to see the entire filming process.

Photo: Steve Doran Photography.

[TAYTE] You have a post on Instagram in which Brittany is “running errands” and picking up cookie making supplies by actually running to the store for you. Could you talk more about the dynamic of being married to a professional runner?
[JUSTIN] One thing we used to joke about is that I provide the carbs and Brittany teaches everyone how to burn them off! That particular moment from Instagram was so funny because I forgot gluten-free flour and Brittany was about to go for a run and she told me “I’ll just go run to the store and pick it up.” She came back from the run with the flour in her backpack. Being married to Brittany has been very inspiring from a health perspective. I’ve never been one to pay close attention to my diet and I haven’t always eaten well or taken care of my body. Brittany has been such a positive influence and she has taught me to live healthier so I will be able to do this for longer.

[TAYTE] Tell us the story behind the name SugarTats Cookie Co.
[JUSTIN] I wanted my brand to show me for who I am and I thought that I’m covered in tattoos so maybe there would be a way to incorporate that. After brainstorming with help from some friends we came up with the name Sugar Tats Cookie Co. The name matches that I work with sugar cookies and have tattoos.

Photo: Steve Doran Photography.

[TAYTE] What are some of your upcoming trail running goals?
[JUSTIN] After a hiatus from running over the past year, I’m excited to get back into running. I’ll be training for the Broken Arrow Skyrace 11K in June. This will be the first time I have trained specifically for a trail race. I’ll also be doing an Olympic distance triathlon in Boulder, CO, in August. I’ve done fourteen triathlons and I’m excited to get back into the routine of getting myself fit and healthy.

[TAYTE] Is there anything as an artist that crosses over well to being a trail runner?
[JUSTIN] Repetition. One thing that cookies have helped with in many areas of my life is getting used to repetition. Cookies are a small piece of art and sometimes I have 120 of them to do for a single order. I have to do the same thing over and over again and I have to learn how to focus. I allow it to be a therapeutic experience. This has translated into running where I can just focus on putting one foot in front of the other, keep going and maintain a steady rhythm. Mentally, I have become more calm and patient with my running through designing cookies.

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