Happy Wednesday lovelies! In anticipation of the post-long-weekend blues, we’ve prepared an extra sweet vendor spotlight to give you just the jolt you may have been needing. And by “sweet,” we mean Ron Ben Israel Cakes sweet! What could possibly be more delicious and exquisite all at the same time? We at Ovando have been tremendous fans of Ron Ben Israel’s work for ages now, which is why we had such a phenomenal time chitchatting away last week about all of our individual inspirations, one of them being one another’s work! Ron was kind enough to give us the inside scoop on his love of cakes and all things culinary, including his work with the Food Network hit, “Sweet Genius!” See what Ron had to say about the magical world of cake design…
Ovando: While many people know of Ron Ben Israel Cakes, perhaps less people know about your former lives as first a set design and then a dancer. Your prowess in the arts has certainly spanned many enchanted chapters. What is it about cake design that first captured you and has since maintained its intrigue?
Ron Ben Israel: I was always fascinated with the magic of desserts in the kitchen; I loved watching egg whites being whipped into a meringue, fruit juices becoming a jelly, and cake batter rising in the oven. I found out early on that guests remember the dessert much more that the main course, and it became another avenue for me to “perform”. So even though I practiced different disciplines over the years, I would always return to the kitchen and to baking.
Ovando: Something we at Ovando have always loved about Ron Ben Israel cakes is the expansive range of your work. From the elegant to the fantastical to the wonderfully chic, each of your collections keeps us on our toes. As the cake designer yourself, what are your favorite kinds of projects to work on? Is there 1 cake design in particular that you love more than all the rest?
Ron Ben Israel: I actually don’t think too much about the range of cakes I’ve done, nor do I struggle with coming up with new ideas. For me, it all starts with practicing techniques. I just can’t stand sloppiness, and when I execute any part of a cake I feel that there is an order in the world. Working on cakes is like exercising for me – a repetitive practice in which we strive for neat execution. When I look at my work through that perspective, there isn’t a particular project I like more than others. But I have to confess that the more difficult and challenging a design is, the more satisfaction I get.
Ovando: Every RBI creation is impossibly beautiful, so much so that the idea of cutting into it seems impossibly painful to fathom. Is it ever hard for you to watch the first slice?!
Ron Ben Israel: On the contrary! It’s the best moment for me. I like to work in a perishable medium. The beauty of cakes is temporary and fleeting. The cutting of the cake is an integral part of the process: it’s the happy culmination! And after the celebrants made the first cut, I enjoy thinking about all the guests partaking in my sweet efforts.
Ovando: How did you get involved with the French Culinary Institute? Tell us more about what the “master classes” involve.
Ron Ben Israel: I was invited to few culinary schools to demonstrate my approach to cake design; it’s customary for chefs to donate their time and give back to the community of developing chefs. My association with The International Culinary Center (founded as The French Culinary Institute) grew out of these demonstrations. After years of teaching in their pastry classroom, I practically trained talented students that have continued to establish their own businesses. I’ve even initiated a specialized program at ICC for cakes and only cakes, which is highly sought after. I realized that the more I teach the more ideas flow, and I’m the one who actually learns the most. Additionally, the student body is the best source for interns and future employees in my shop.
Ovando: As the “Manolo Blahnik” of wedding cakes, what would your advice be to an aspiring “wedding cake master?”
Ron Ben Israel: Oh, please. Don’t fool yourself. Calling oneself an “artist” and striving to be a “master” are sure ways to stagnate. I’m proud to call myself a “baker” or a “cake maker.” My advice is simply to keep practicing and honing the technique while remaining open for inspiration.
Ovando: Your show on the Food Network, “Sweet Genius” has been such a tremendous success! Tell us about the first episode you filmed: did you have a blast? Did you have stage fright?!
Ron Ben Israel: There was no time for stage fright, as I needed to learn very quickly so many different things. Where to stand, what to say, how to communicate with the chef contestants. So much happens on the set that the viewer doesn’t actually see. There are about 60 people working on a single episode every day, so it’s very exciting to see how all the pieces in the puzzle fit together. Filming the show has been an intense experience, and every episode is a brand new challenge.
Ovando: Tell us a bit more about your process when working with brides to create a dream cake.
Ron Ben Israel: For me, it’s all about inspiration. I ask the bride to bring to the initial appointment anything related to the wedding reception. I’m curious to get to know the clients’ personalities and taste sensibilities. Learning about their event’s location, time of the year, choices of menu, flowers and decor, outfits, invitation, and even courtship will influence the cake design we’ll come up with. Of course, I also have to take into consideration the budget allowed for the cake – therefore I present few options to choose from.
Ovando: Being that a wedding cake should marry nicely (no pun intended!) with the design of the wedding itself, there are surely many décor aspects that you must consider. Is there one aspect that generally influences your design most greatly?
Ron Ben Israel: Of all the other vendors and creative contributors, the one I absolutely have to consider above all is the floral designer. I often would match our sugar flowers on the cake to the real blossoms, so of course our communication has to be clear. But beyond getting inspired by the flowers, I need to know about all the other design elements in the reception space – table cloths, napkins, containers, chair covers – so many wonderful ideas come my way via the florist.
Ovando: What most inspires your work? And your life outside of the kitchen?
Ron Ben Israel: I keep repeating this to myself, my staff, and my students – it’s all about inspiration. In life and in work I try to open all my senses and to avail myself to everything around us.
Ovando: What’s your favorite dessert?
Ron Ben Israel: That’s a tough one… I adore baked meringue of any kind, so a classic Pavlova would be it.
Ovando: As tremendous fans of your work for many years now, we are so thrilled to be partnering with RBI to create a masterful floral foodie experience (We can’t wait to show off the Ovando inspired and RBI-crafted cake that is currently in the works!) Which flowers serve as your favorite cake accessories? Why? Any other favorite accessories that blend well?
Ron Ben Israel: Well, the appreciation is mutual! I’ve been collecting the Ovando brochures and photos for years, filing them in a folder called “Ideas for cakes.” I live close to the West Village store and often stop by to admire the displays. I enjoy so much getting influenced by the Ovando look – bold colors, interesting movement of stems, and original groupings of blossoms. The designs I see by Ovando are so far removed from static and dull, they motivate me to “respond” with a unique cake design!
Ovando: Any other thoughts you’d like to leave us with?
Ron Ben Israel: Just that I feel so lucky to be doing what I love, and to meet such fine artisans such as Sandra along the way!
Tremendous thanks, Ron, for sharing your work with Ovando’s readers. We can’t wait to have you back on our blog with an Ovando-inspired RBI cake!
Photos courtesy of Ron Ben Israel Cakes