May 9th, 2012 No Comments

my chat with ‘sweet genius’ host, ron ben-israel

I’ve worked with Ron on many cake stories throughout the years for both Martha Stewart Weddings and InStyle Weddings. We were always so busy and enthusiastic about the design of the cakes and the inspiration we had found to collaborate though, that we never really just had a leisurely chat.  It wasn’t until I started this blog that I began asking Ron about his beginnings and how he got started in the cake business. Ron has an amazingly successful cake company called Ron Ben-Israel Cakes, based in New York City and he’s added tv host and judge to his duties on Food Network’s “Sweet Genius” show. You would think by looking at Ron’s incredible realistic sugar flowers and precise details that adorn his cakes (like the cake he made to scale from architectural drawings of the Plaza Hotel for the 100th Anniversary celebration, see photo below ) that Ron has been doing this since he was young boy. But actually Ron was a professional dancer before a bad knee and knee surgery led him on a different career path. Ron started doing sets for magazine shoots and window displays. When he was working on a window display with Barbie dolls with a beach scene, he couldn’t get the sand in the display quite right and to stay where he wanted. So since he was working on all these little sets with mini things he came up with the idea to go to a cake decorating store to see how he might manipulate the sand and props to stay where he wanted with baking supplies and tools. He asked a lot of questions and eventually started taking a class offered by the store. Ron said he felt like the class wasn’t moving as quickly as he wanted to learn so he asked the teacher, Betty Van Norstrand, to give him personal, one on one lessons. Betty became a wonderful mentor for Ron and she still teaches students the art of cake decorating. As Ron started to learn more about baking and constructing sugar flowers he really delved into it. He made visits to the flower market to study the whole structure and anatomy of flowers.  Taking cues from nature Ron started developing unique and realistic sugar flowers for cakes. It was quite a different approach then what people in the industry were doing. When I asked, ‘what was the first flower you mastered?’ Ron began telling me this entire story of how it all began and where he was first featured. Being in the creative industry in New York he was called upon by Susan Spungen, then Food Editor at Martha Stewart Weddings. She approached Ron about doing a cake for a special issue they were working on….the very first issue of Martha Stewart Living Weddings, published Winter/Spring 1995. When he looked at Martha’s own wedding photos she carried daisies. So Ron made the beautiful yellow tiered cake you see above. He worked on his construction and molds for floral daisies, stamped out fondant and used toothpicks to get the right bends and shapes. Ron recounted, “my first meeting with Martha was significant. I came to the office to discuss cake designs, and she served me her fresh muffins she made. I noticed that a Carolina Herrera wedding gown was hanging behind her office door. It had the most enticing fabric ribbon loops. I interpreted them in sugar for that first cake of mine.”  I really can’t believe that this was one of Ron’s first cakes- obviously there was a true calling there to be in the career he’s in now. The detail on the ribbon too- it’s like from the hands of a seasoned French pastry chef- for one of his first published cakes! Unbelievable- such an artist in his field. I’m lucky to have spent many times in his Soho loft like a little girl in a candy store, selecting any flower in any color we wanted for our wedding cake stories. When I asked Ron what his favorite color was (since I was starting a blog based on color palettes) he said, “PINK!, pink is like a flirtation.. a perfect combination of white and red.”

One of my favorite cakes we did together (besides the peonies that I featured a few weeks ago) is the pink rose cake we did for InStyle Weddings. It’s a huge rose composed of over 150 petals with realistic sugar leaves. I loved it so much I had Ron make it for my own birthday one year. The cake was so special I decided to forgo serving any other food and I planned a champagne and cake party in a suite at the  Lowell Hotel to celebrate- Perfect!

Please know Ron is such a charming and engaging man, everyone loves to meet with him and be in his company. But his cake studio is not a bakery you can walk into and buy cakes and confections. If you are seriously thinking about a Ron Ben-Israel cake for your wedding or celebration (he does amazing birthday cakes, anniversary cakes, cakes for corporations etc) please do call and make an appointment. You’ll love working with Ron and his talented team throughout the entire process. Even though he does Oprah and Martha’s birthday cakes, don’t let that fool you- he sincerely loves working with every client. That’s what’s so special about Ron too- his endearing quality to make you feel like you and your event are the most important at that given time. Ron’s the whole package- personable, professional and a meticulous chef!