Master pastry chef Ron Ben-Israel is the Sweet Genius, and host of a brand new show premiering on the Food Network this Thursday, September 22nd at 10pm ET/PT. Each week four of America's top pastry chefs will compete against each other for a $10,000 cash prize – creating magical and inventive desserts, while being given an inspiration, surprise ingredients, and a limited amount of time.
Born and raised in Tel Aviv, Ron Ben-Israel is used to hearing applause. Before embarking on a career as a pastry artist, Ben-Israel enjoyed a fifteen-year career as a professional modern dancer. I couldn’t control my curiosity. What kind of person would trade ballet slippers for a baking pan? “I always enjoyed Israeli folk dancing, and even while attending art school I continued performing,” explains Ben-Israel,“but after finishing my three years of [army] service I was able to devote myself to practicing ballet and modern techniques, and was accepted to one of the top companies in Israel at the time, Bat Dor. I performed and toured for years, and while in Canada I fell in love with the art of being a pastry chef. Consequently, when I had to retire from professional dancing, I found a new stage at the kitchen.”
Ben-Israel’s innate culinary gifts were already well established before he decided to dedicate his career to baking. “My mother hails from Vienna… I don't think we ever bought a cake in a store; and all the cakes at home were made with whipped egg whites, the old fashioned way. Baking powder was the easy way, according to that generation of Austro-Hungarians." Ben-Israel grew up absorbing the traditions of a lost generation of European baking and an immersion of regional flavors introduced by friends and neighbors, like halva, rose water and cardamom. The amalgamation of taste and tradition continues to inspire his most memorable confections.
After arriving in New York City, Ron's cakes were discovered by Martha Stewart while on display in the windows of Mikimoto on Fifth Avenue. In 1999 he established his eponymous design studio and bakery in Manhattan's fashionable SoHo neighborhood. He is a Master Pastry Instructor at the French Culinary Institute in New York City, and has been awarded prestigious gold medals for his confectionery achievements.
Ben-Israel is not afraid of dessert without dairy. For a perfectly pareve dessert, he recommends to “try not to use too many commercial products, and rely on wonderful ingredients such as soy and rice milks to replace dairy components.” To bolster the sometimes shaky confidence of a casual kosher baker, Ben-Israel notes that, “an intense chocolate cake actually benefits from not using milk, which only disguises the depth of the cocoa flavor.” You can even special order a kosher parve Ron Ben Israel wedding cake from his New York City shop.
The Food Network has (sugar) high hopes for Sweet Genius and I can’t wait to see some of the most talented pastry chefs in the world compete for cash and fame on cable TV.
If you are wondering if cheese puffs can possibly work in a frozen dessert inspired by fire, how carbonated candies might taste if inspired by a disco ball, and why someone would ever combine duck fat and fusilli in a frozen dessert inspired by diamonds, you will just have to watch.
We are super excited to tune in on October 27th when the Kosher Baker, Paula Shoyer, mixes it up with the Sweet Genius before a national TV audience. We will be publishing an exclusive recap with Paula Shoyer right after the episode airs, as she promises to reveal what it’s like behind the scenes and under the bright lights at Food Network studios at Chelsea Market in New York City.