The New York Minute

Interview Series: Meet Your Remarkable New York Neighbors

The Cake Designer

Paul & Vince would like to welcome to the conversation Ron Ben-Israel of Ron Ben-Israel Cakes.
My mother was a cartographer doing precise work, and my father was in printing. I learned to be exact; to understand processes. When we cooked, my job was to whip the egg whites, and I was fascinated by separating the yolk from the egg white and the things you could do with either…It was a mix of chemistry and art.

Ron Ben-Israel is the head chef and owner of one of the world’s finest couture cake studios.

He began baking after a 15-year career as a modern dancer, and in 1999, he established his flagship design studio and bakery in Manhattan.

Along the way, Ron became the only Master Pastry Chef at the International Culinary Center in New York City and has been awarded prestigious gold medals for his confectionery achievements. He has been the sole host and judge of the hit Food Network show “Sweet Genius,” and can also be seen as a judge on the channel’s “Cake Wars” and “The Big Bake.” 


Paul & Vince: How did you come to be in New York City in your current career?

Ron: So, I was born in Israel, in Tel Aviv, and both my parents were Holocaust survivors in their teens. They were able to escape and come to Israel. They were artisans and excelled at what they did, but we all had to serve in the army in those days. I served for three years. I liked the discipline.

After the army, I went to art school and discovered dance. Once I saw Modern Dance, I was smitten. I first came to New York on tour as a dancer. I was in my late twenties and thought, I will live here one day! So after working for dance companies in Canada and France and touring, I came here with nothing and had to find a way to support myself.

I relied on my art training to get visual jobs and worked in showrooms, setting up the visual effects. At one point, a client asked me to make cakes, to complement some very ornate china on the dinner table. I didn’t know exactly what I was doing, but I had enough experience to create something. From there, I made display cakes for Mikimoto Jewelry on Fifth Avenue, covered in pearls and jewels. That’s when I got a very interesting phone call.

It was from a lady who said, “Hi, Ron, this is Martha,” and I thought it was somebody pulling my leg, pretending to be Martha Stewart. Well, it was her, and she had seen the Mikimoto display and wanted to meet with me about designing cakes for her magazine. I got the gig. And then, I spent the next few years figuring out how to do it. [Laughs]


Paul & Vince: So, what does a typical day on the job look like for you?

Ron: A typical day on the job is not far from me being a teenager in my mom’s kitchen. [Laughs] My mother was a cartographer doing precise work, and my father was in printing. I learned to be exact; to understand processes. When we cooked, my job was to whip the egg whites, and I was fascinated by separating the yolk from the egg white and the things you could do with either. It was a mix of chemistry and art; of course, I’d always had a sweet tooth.

Paul & Vince: You enjoyed both the creative side and the technical?

Ron: Exactly. And a typical day is really about processes. We have nine people in the cake studio. We have processes in each department, in administrative, with tastings and photographs, the actual bakers, and one room that is a non-perishable shop – I try not to go in there because it’s really scary, table saws and things like that. [Laughs] So, the daily structure is complex because I deal with people, the building, and the butter and sugar. I set up our company very much like a dance company. Or an army base! That discipline has served me.

Photo by Georgi Richardson, Maggie Studio


Paul & Vince: Could you tell us something people don’t realize about your work?

Ron: Most people come to us a year or more in advance. Today I met with a couple getting married in June, and they wanted something thematic. So, we discussed the colors of their flowers, the tuxedos — even the invitation! We discussed some ideas around 24-carat gold edibles that make amazing effects. So, it’s important to know everything about the event…and when they want non-traditional things, that’s fun and more challenging for me.

And, you know, people always ask me, “Which is your favorite cake?” But of course, they are all special. I say every cake is like an opening night. Every wedding and every special occasion is like an opening night on Broadway. You have one chance to get a standing ovation. That’s the way we think.


Paul & Vince: What are your favorite things to do in New York on your day off?

Ron: Well, I love restaurants, and I go to the hotels where we’ve served wedding cakes: the Pierre and the St. Regis. But I’ve been dating a Japanese-American guy, so we’ve been cooking a lot, and I’ve been learning Japanese cooking, and he’s learning how to bake. I discovered a Japanese-Jewish restaurant in Brooklyn called “Shalom Japan,” so we’re definitely going there!

Paul & Vince: Nice, that’s so New York.

Ron: Yes, I love the fusion and see it with my clients. We have a Jewish guy marrying a woman from India. An Italian will marry a Greek. [Laughs] And I love my neighborhood, Greenwich Village. Some mornings, I leave the building, like Belle in “Beauty and the Beast”…I say hello to the doorman, then I say hi to my dry cleaner, and I wave to the guys at the bagel shop. It’s really a village.

…and one more, Just For Fun

Paul & Vince: Now it’s time for our Just For Fun question. If you could live in another historical period for a few days, when and where would you go?

RonI would choose the Baroque Period because I love those costumes and the dancing. I spent time in a dance company recreating those 17th Century dances. In that period, I could’ve been one of the first well-known pastry chefs to the kings because, really, at that time, they first started creating elaborate cakes.

Paul & Vince: Really, why was that?

Ron: White sugar was very rare, and it was only available for nobility.

Paul & Vince: Hmm, is there a connection between elaborate, tall cakes and the stacked hairstyles of the women in that period?

Ron: Absolutely! Both women and men. Bigger was better! [Laughs]

Original artwork by Jolisa Robinson, Gavriani-Falcone Team Marketing


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