What is your favorite dish to create?
My favorite cakes to create are the ones about which the celebrant has an open mind. Making classically beautiful wedding cakes is what attracted me to this business, to be sure, but what keeps me interested after over a decade is the opportunity to create truly unique, outside the box cakes that people will look at and say, "How did they do that?" I love when a client comes in and wants their groom's cake to look like a tree stump, or when they want their wedding cake to have elements that force us to create new methods and really extend ourselves creatively.
Describe a day in your life at your job/business.
Our flow of production at Ron Ben-Israel cakes is on more of a weekly arc, than a daily one because the majority of our cakes are delivered on weekends. In our slower seasons, like Winter and Summer, most of our week is spent producing stock sugar flowers to have on hand for when it gets busy. Once the Spring or Fall comes around, however, our week is spent mostly on producing the elements that will be used to decorate that week's cakes.
As Creative Director, I'm in charge of the design studio portion of our operation. This means that it's my job to use our packing slips to look ahead at the upcoming month, and then to schedule our month by deciding which elements we can make ahead of time, which flowers we'll need the most of, which weeks will be the busiest and how best to spread out our work load so that we don't incur too much overtime. I love making lists, and more to the point, I love crossing items off of lists. It makes the busy season much less daunting when you can see it for what it is a whole month in advance.
I also participate in client meetings, helping our clients to design their cakes. When we have more time in the Winter and Summer, we also try to create new display cakes in the hopes that celebrants will be inspired to try something a little different. This is when I really get to be creative, and it's my favorite part of my job, hands down.
Tell us about a few highlights of your career.
I'm currently working at my dream job. I don't know too many people who can say that, but for me, it's 100% true. I stumbled upon it, but if I had known that this job existed when I was younger, it would have saved me a lot of stress. I've worked for other companies, and have been very happy, but my best moments come from Ron Ben-Israel Cakes, and two moments stand out to me more than the rest. The first was being accepted as an intern 12 years ago. I went on my trail not knowing what to expect, and after the first day, it became clear that this was the job for me. It's organized, perfection oriented, and it prioritizes the right way over the easy way. The second moment, was being promoted to Creative Director. This is a position that didn't exist before me, and that is a huge honor.
Do you have any advice for future or current CIA students?
Absorb as much as you can! Pay attention, take notes, save your notes. It's easy to think you'll remember all of it, but before you know it, all the information that you thought was locked tight in your mind starts to fade. You owe it to yourself or whoever else might be paying your tuition to take all the information you can with you into your post-graduation life. You may never have the opportunity to have the undivided attention of such talented Chefs again, so take advantage.
What's your best memory at the CIA?
My best memory at the CIA was coming back after my externship and feeling like I finally had a sense of focus about where I wanted my career to go. I always knew I wanted to work in the food industry in some way, but that field is vast, and contains many options. Being able to narrow that down, and coming back to school with that knowledge, brought such a sense of relief and purpose. I felt as though I was finally enjoying the experience.
Photo: Sarah Baldwin, CIA baking and pastry arts alumni and Creative Director at Ron Ben-Israel Cakes, New York, NY.