Ron Ben-Israel, a judge on Food Network’s Cake Wars, former host of Sweet Genius and owner of Ron Ben-Israel Cakes in New York, will join City of Hope’s Let Them Eat Cake fundraiser on March 28.
With the discipline of an Israeli soldier and the training of a professional dancer, Ron Ben-Israel was prepared to perfect his ultimate passion: baking.
Ben-Israel, a judge on Food Network’s Cake Wars, former host of Sweet Genius and owner of Ron Ben-Israel Cakes in New York, will join City of Hope’s Let Them Eat Cake fundraiser on March 28.
City of Hope is a medical organization dedicated to the research of cancer, diabetes and other diseases. The Philadelphia office raises funds for research, treatment and education
programs throughout the year.
About 25 chefs will create their own uniquely designed cakes, which they construct in their shops and assemble on the day of the competition at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel.
In addition to Ben-Israel, there will a blind judging by a panel of 15 pastry professionals.
Ben-Israel was always interested in baking and creating desserts more than cooking, claiming he was a consistent pest to his mother in the kitchen.
He grew up in a Tel Aviv house that, because his mother was from Vienna, was always filled with family and friends from Hungary, Austria, Germany or the Czech Republic.
“I was always surrounded by very good cakes,” he said. “So I was always playing in the kitchen, making Jell-O molds and so forth.”
But Ben-Israel’s artistic career first took a different route. He became a professional dancer at age 21, touring the world with different companies for 15 years.
“I didn’t think about cooking professionally until years later, when I was touring and working with different companies and I needed to supplement my income,” he explained, claiming his pastry knowledge was quite minimal at first. “I had to cheat my way into it.”
That supplemental job was working for a shop designer, creating showrooms and designing storefront windows — and sometimes adding cakes to the displays.
Eventually, people started asking where they could order these cakes shown in the windows of luxury retailer Mikimoto on Fifth Avenue in New York City.
“It was very exciting that people actually offered me money in advance to design and execute something for the future,” he laughed.
By that point, he realized he wanted to do more with baking and designing.
He was fortunate to find mentors like Martha Stewart, Betty Van Norstrand and Rose Levy Beranbaum. He also took classes and learned as much as he could. Before he knew it, he turned in his ballet slippers for pastry tubes.
For him, the key to becoming successful in baking was the same as becoming a successful dancer: putting his heart and soul into what he creates, whether a plié or a petit four.
“Without practice, it doesn’t matter how much ambition people have — passion, talent even — practice is what matters,” he said.
“I love the magic that it entails. From whipping egg whites to mixing buttercream to just having a cake rise in the oven for me is always a miracle,” he raved. “It’s not just a technical achievement; it’s also a spiritual one because you can’t bake your resentment off — you have to work for it.
“It’s very much like dancing. You have to have the discipline and the training, and there’s always a chance to get better.”
Every competition — whether Let Them Eat Cake or Cake Wars — has its own set of rules and criteria to judge by, but in general, Ben-Israel said, he will be making note of cakes with a clear story, execution, integrity, neatness and, of course, taste, because the interior is just as important as the exterior.
In its 12th year, City of Hope continues to benefit research and treatment for women’s cancers.
“From my personal experience,” Ben-Israel continued, “from my mother and so many people, they are touched by different forms of cancer and make such little progress. We have to be involved. It’s a part of our lives. I’m always grateful that I’m healthy and functioning today, but you don’t know what tomorrow is. It’s part of our responsibility to raise awareness.”
In between filming the fourth season of Cake Wars, Ben-Israel also teaches as the guest master pastry chef at the International Culinary Center in New York City and in his own bakery, leading workshops and master classes.
He said he loves seeing his students succeed, and “the more I teach, the more I learn.”
“I always have to be on my toes, always continue innovating and honing my skills,” he added. “It’s just wonderful for them.”
Reminiscing about his career in culinary confections, he recalled a very important part about his path to success.
His dancing career gave him what he calls “wandering Jew syndrome” to travel the globe, but he said Israel will always be very important to him. And through his family name, Israel will continue to be displayed in a positive light.
“My name commemorates my grandparents who perished in the Holocaust,” he explained. “My father took Ben-Israel (son of Israel) when he arrived in Israel after the Second World War.
“On one hand, every time my name is said or somebody orders a cake, it’s ‘son of Israel.’ So it’s family roots and the state. I think that’s quite remarkable because a lot of people told me when I arrived, ‘Oh, you better change your name,’ but obviously, it works.”
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