Assisting Master Chef Ron-Ben Israel
It would not be an exaggeration to call my love for cakes an obsession. I am continuously looking for new techniques to apply to cakes and admire those who have found their niche as cake designers. So, when our class was asked for volunteers to assist ICC’s Guest Master Pastry Chef Ron Ben-Israel during a cake demo, I jumped on the rare opportunity.
By Camille Sedayao
ICC Student, Cake Techniques & Design
An hour before the demo, my chef-instructor took me and another volunteer to Ron Ben-Israel Cakes to meet with Ron and pick up supplies. Little did I know he would invite us in for a tour. His pristine shop was naturally lit and the shelves were filled with the most unique display cakes. He had countless pre-made sugar flowers in airtight containers, stacked almost as high as the ceiling. I did not want to blink; afraid I would miss something. Then, Chef Ron took us to his walk-in refrigerator where he showed us parts of a cake with real Swarovski crystals! After a quick meet-and-greet with his employees, it was time to walk back to school.
As an assistant, I was able to get a sense of Chef Ron’s organizational process. During set-up, he asked an assistant to fetch six half-sheet pans. He explained that each pan would contain tools for each stage of his demo, allowing a smooth transition when shifting gears. I could see how his meticulous habits, beginning with his tools, allow him to create such flawless cakes. After set-up, Chef Ron needed little help from the assistants until, to our surprise, it came time to decorating the cake!
The theme of Chef Ron’s demo was summer cakes. He brought a citrus cake layered with three flavors of Swiss meringue buttercream: coconut, lemon and raspberry. He made the crowd laugh by saying we could each have a slice “if [we] were good.” When designing and decorating a cake, Chef Ron noted that it is best to stick with two motifs and build from there. For this demo, he demonstrated how to make and apply textured horizontal stripes and large peony flowers.
Chef Ron began by covering a 5-inch tier cake with fondant. It was already perfectly iced with Swiss meringue buttercream and he said there was no secret to achieve this, only lots of practice! As for rolling the fondant, his recommendation was to use a PVC pipe, which is food-safe, and could be bought at a hardware store. His cakes sit on predrilled Masonite boards, which are sturdier than cake circles and the hole allows him to place the cake through a large center dowel.
Once Chef Ron built the three-tier cake, it was time to decorate! He used a pasta machine attached with a motor to roll out sugar paste. To give the paste texture, he placed a long piece of lace on top of the rolled paste and put it through the machine together. He cut strips of paste and tasked the assistants with applying the strips horizontally. Chef Ron joked that they must be perfectly straight, making us more nervous than we already were! The three assistants worked together and applied the strips, the best we could, using piping gel and real ribbon to help space them out. The audience cheered us on and gave us encouragement to finish the job well! Chef Ron completed the demo with peony flowers and placed them on the cake. For serving cake, Chef Ron recommends a long knife meant for cutting smoked fish. To ensure a neat slice, clean the blade between cuts.
Overall, it was a great experience assisting a Master Chef. I am glad I was able to have this opportunity and learn first-hand some amazing tricks and techniques for cake decorating. I would not have been able to have this experience were it not for the International Culinary Center and its goal to provide continuing education outside the classroom.
This blog post was originally published by the International Culinary Center (ICC), founded as The French Culinary Institute (FCI). In 2020, ICE and ICC came together on one strong and dynamic national platform at ICE's campuses in New York City and Los Angeles. Explore your cake education where the legacy lives on.