Interview #4: Ron Ben-Israel
As Chef-Owner of one of the country’s finest couture cake studios, Ron Ben-Israel started his confectionery
adventures after a fifteen-year career as a professional modern dancer. Upon retiring from performing with
companies spanning three continents, he utilized his art background and ballet training into the discipline of pastry arts.
After apprenticeships and engagements in Toronto, Canada and Lyon, France he was led to New York City. In
1996 his cakes were discovered while on displayed in the windows of Mikimoto on Fifth Avenue, commissions
quickly followed from Villeroy & Boch, Baccarat, DeBeer’s, Bloomingdales, Bergdorf-Goodman.
In 1999 Ron established his flagship design studio and bakery in Manhattan’s fashionable SoHo neighborhood.
In addition to wonderful private clients, many of New York’s premier hotels such as The Pierre, The NY Palace, The Ritz-Carlton, The Waldorf-Astoria, The Four Seasons and the Mandarin Oriental are devotees. Aside from serving the northeast, his cakes are frequently delivered to destination throughout the continental U.S and abroad.
Ron’s confectionary creations have been featured in countless publications, many times adorning their covers.
Some publications include: The New York Times, New York Magazine, Town and Country, People, NY Post, NY
Daily News, Martha Stewart Living, In Style, Modern Bride, Bridal Guide, Elegant Bride, Glamour, Cosmopolitan,
The Knot, TimeOut and Vogue to name a few. In 2004 Vogue named Ron the number one best baker and Martha Stewart’s favorite baker.
Many books have highlighted his cakes including Vera Wang on Weddings, Kate Manchester’s The Perfect
Wedding Cake, Bette Matthews’ For Your Wedding – Cakes, and Joan Hamburg’s City Weddings. Zagat Survey’s have published glowing reviews on Ron’s confections for the past six consecutive years. His personae and operation have been thinly disguised as a feature character in the New York Times’ bestselling novel Shopaholic Ties The Knot by Sophie Kinsella.
Ron and his team have created The Plaza’s 100th birthday cake, which was an exact confectionery replica of the famed New York landmark. Measuring over 12’ tall and serving 1,500 guests, the cake was hailed as a culinary and artistic masterpiece.
In 2011 Ron became host and judge of the new hit show Sweet Genius on the Food Network.
1. How did you first get started with cake decorating?
I was working as a stylist on magazine sets and store windows, as well as catering. I think my first cake was for a private client – I decided to build a christmas tree out of cake.
I didn’t know much about decorating cakes, so I went to a local store to buy supplies. By chance, I met there the woman who changed my life and gave me a new career – Betty Van Norstrand. She was there to teach a class, and I joined. I never looked back!
2. Why did you decide to decorate cakes?
It wasn’t a decision per se. I got hooked! It seemed that everything I’ve done beforehand prepared me to tackle cake as a career – I was baking since childhood, I went to art school, I spent years in the discipline of the dance world. What else do you need to tackle such a demanding career?
3. What are some things you do differently now than when you first started decorating?
I now work out of my own facility, that was built from the ground up to accommodate cake baking, decorating, and storing. It’s a big difference to have good ovens and customized refrigeration. Also, I was able to train a good crew that helps me achieve greater flights of fancy than I was able by myself.
4. What has been your greatest challenge?
Since each project has so many components to it, from the relationship with the clients to the complexity of design, each one poses it’s own challenges. But I have to say that the most complex cake was the one we produced for the 100th birthday celebration of the famed Plaza Hotel in New York City. You can watch a documentary Martha Stewart produced about that cake on our website. It was 12 feet high by 8 feed wide, and fed over 1,500 celebrants.
5. What is the most rewarding part of cake decorating?
Happy customers, of course, but also the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve done a good job – both visually and taste-wise.
6. What are your favorite cake decorating tools?
I like some high-priced gadgets such as my various Somerset sheeters for fondant and sugar paste, and rely on many silicone molds I mostly make myself.
But I also treasure some very simple tools such as wooden sticks and acrylic rolling pins. And I’ve used the same ball tool for most of my career.
7. Which one of your cakes is your favorite?
I couldn’t possibly favor one child over the others… but I do have seasonal affections. Right now I’m designing a lot of cakes with graphical elements for men. Indeed, we have same-sex couples seeking a different approach to their wedding cakes, and I need to challenge myself and come up with new designs.
8. Could you give some tips to people who have just started decorating cakes or would love to start?
I find that there is no substitution to hands-on training; looking at a book or a video are not enough, I think. I highly suggest to seek out a mentor and take as many classes with them as possible.
10. What’s been the biggest surprise in all of this for you?
Oh, that people continuously seek me out and demand my product. I never expected cakes to become my career, let alone last so long…
Thank you Ron for your time and great interview.
- Part 3: Royal Bakery's Lesley Wright
- Part 4: Ron Ben-Israel
- Part 5: Jenniffer White from Cup a Dee Cakes