As many of you know, last November, I was extremely fortunate to learn from the Maestro of sugarflowers, Ron Ben Israel. Not only is Ron a great mentor, but he is genuinely warm and friendly. Ron was gracious enough to take time out of his VERY BUSY schedule to sit and answer a few questions, I hope you all enjoy the outcome!
Morsels by Mark: Hi Ron. Thank-you for taking time out of your hectic schedule to answer these questions. I was stunned in class to learn that you had read the blog! What drove you to a career in cake?
Ron Ben Israel: It was good to have you in class Mark, and to know that you scheduled your first teaching experience right afterwards. It was all a chain of events that I never planned on. I started baking professionally in Toronto, ON, while I was taking classes on scholarship with Toronto Dance Theater.
When I moved to France to apprentice with another dance company, I continued supplementing my income baking "Les Brownies" that I learned in Canada. Eventually I ended up in NYC, and by "accident" met Colette Peters while shopping for cake pans. Soon after I took a class with Betty Van Norstrand who became my mentor and friend. I was in a transitional period in my life, having to retire from dancing, and was able to use my previous art training and discipline in a new exciting way.
MBM: You have background in dance and are accustomed to performing for crowds. Do you get nervous before teaching a new set of students?
RBI: I don't get nervous in front of crowds at all; teaching is delightful for me, as I get to re-asses the materials and improve my methods. The self-doubt and anxiety is kept hidden from the public, and is reserved for uncharted styles and techniques.
MBM: What is your favourite piece of cake decorating equipment?
RBI: A sheeter. We currently have three - a large one for rolling fondant in the kitchen, and mid-sized one for long sugar ribbons, and a small one for sugar flowers.
MBM: You have designed cakes for some pretty high-end customers. Who would you like to design for that you haven't yet?
RBI: I would love to design and deliver a cake in person to the Queen of England.
MBM: Please explain your design process. Where do you go for inspiration?
RBI: Inspiration is everywhere - I talk to the clients about their event so that the cake design will be relevant to them. I start with the cultural background, and end up with the location and the time of the year.
MBM: What is your favourite aspect of the industry?
RBI: Making people happy!
MBM: What is your least favourite aspect?
RBI: When I can't make people happy...
MBM: What is your preferred type of cake to work on (ie Wedding, celebration,...)?
RBI: I am devoted to pretty, romantic, and chic cakes. I would probably never produce funky cakes if I didn't have a crew with such a twisted sense of humor.
Ron teaching how to make a fondant bowMBM: Do you feel that the influx of cake based tv shows brings positive attention to our craft, or do they just provide our customers with unrealistic expectations (regarding price for size)?
RBI: I am so glad our profession is getting so much exposure on TV; I actually find that prospective clients appreciate more the time, effort, and talent that goes into making cakes.
MBM: Which is your favourite flower to create?
RBI: Roses and Cattleya Orchids. And hyacinth.
Ron and I in classMBM: Seeing as your classes are so popular, would you ever consider coming out with an instructional DVD?
RBI: I would love to, I just need to find the time.
MBM: What is your favourite flavour of cake?
RBI: Candied Ginger. It's my own recipe, and so far nobody but myself like it.
MBM: What one piece of advice can you give the readers about the world of cake?
RBI: Practice at lot, and get exposure to teachers and professionals who can guide you
Ron has been one of my heros for a long time, and I am so fortunate to have met him and learned from him. I cannot wait to take more classes from him in the future. He continues to be a driving force in our indutry and truly is an inspiration!
Stay tuned for our next Baker's Dozen.....Sharon Zambito. Sharon and I will discuss her new DVD, and who knows - maybe there'll be something for one of my lucky readers! I also want to know if there is anyone in particular you'd like interviewd and what you'd like me to ask them!
Until next time