Wedding Cake Master Ron Ben-Israel Explains Why Vanilla Cake Is Poetry in the Mouth

Photo courtesy Ron Ben-Israel
Ron Ben-Israel, sugar flower maker extraordinaire

For Wedding Week, who better to interview than wedding-cake guru Ron Ben-Israel? He magically transforms sugar and spice and everything nice into elaborate cakes coveted by brides (and maybe a bridezilla or two) around town. We called him up and asked about trends in wedding-cake design, and about his transformation from dancer to baker.

So you were formerly a dancer. What attracted you to pastry arts?

I was always involved with it because as a child I always baked with my mom and was interested in the magic of it. The action of baking was just fascinating and I had always felt comfortable in the kitchen. I had to retire at 36 from dancing and needed a new career. I had also gone to art school before that. I was doing many jobs: styling, dressing models in Bryant Park, photographing, catering, baking, and everything. It fell into place.

Do you see parallels between the two forms of expression, that is, dancing and cake making?

With dancing you have the repetitiveness and daily dedication. The coordination of body and eyes. With cakes you need hand-eye coordination. And you ultimately self-train, and I was able to take some [cake] classes and found people who became my mentors. I wasn't spoon-fed. At the French Culinary Institute, where I now teach, I spoon-feed the kids, and that's a luxury. I learned in the trenches.

Where did you cultivate your aesthetic?

I didn't learn cake design. I learned that in art school. What happened was that I realized what could be done in sugar. At that time, it was very static. The colors ... there was lots of pink and peach and the sugar flowers were not attractive. But I started looking at fashion, and nature, the seasons. I was in the right place at the right time, and people responded to my fresh look.

And how would you describe your cakes?

The overall aesthetic is that you have collections as opposed to cake A, B, and C. They have a certain logic. I wouldn't do a cake I did years ago again. I really like the cakes to relate to something, whether it's a feeling or something the bride wears. The cakes I made for Martha Stewart wouldn't work well for the Plaza Hotel. And the neatness. I hate mess! For me, every crumb, every smear of buttercream, every petal flowing with movement has to be neat.

How much does an average cake cost?

Fifteen dollars per slice and up. So for 100 people, $1,500. Sometimes more, sometimes less. People know what they get for that price.

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