Ron Ben-Israel – Master of Cakes for Weddings and Special Occasions

I recently talked to cake virtuoso and pastry chef Ron Ben-Israel about his creations for weddings and special occasions, his background, and how he works with clients to craft the cake of their dreams. (You can read the first installment of our interview here.) Next up, we chat inspiration, his recent project with Martha Stewart Weddings, and how he and his team make those incredible — edible! — sugar flowers. (Remember: never say “gum paste”!) Plus, more photos of more cakes!


photo: Mel Barlow

Where do you find inspiration?

The first thing I would say is the celebrant — whether it’s a single celebrant for a birthday or a couple getting married — it’s about them. We interview them: what is their family background, what kind of ceremony are they are going to have?…I ask all the basic questions. What time will guests arrive? What kind of lighting, what kind of flowers they are going to use? It’s a big deal because we are known for our sugar flowers. I also like to know about the menu. Usually the menu will influence the inside of the cake, but if a wedding takes place at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, they will use a lot of ingredients from the organic garden, so maybe the decorations on the cake will have an organic feel…We try to find out what the couple is wearing. There is tons of information [I can use by looking at] today’s dresses because there is so much going on with the fabric and texture.

Can you talk about making your signature flowers? Are some more challenging than others?

Orchids have risen in popularity enormously…I think the availability of all [fresh] orchids has grown. Orchids are available more year round [now], there’s more variety, and they are more accessible price-wise. Exotic orchids that were almost unavailable years ago are now being presented at weddings.

Orchids are wonderful to make in sugar but they are very complex. There’s a lot of colouring and special shapes. Certain flowers like the rose — which is eternal and romantic and has many emotional facets to it — you don’t need a lot of tools to make roses. You do a lot by hand, cutting by hand, pulling and tugging. But with orchids I need a lot of different shapes and cutters. I need to make silicon molds from real petals to be able to get the texture. Some orchids are very complex in their colourings and you can spend hours coloring dots and creating each petal by hand.


photo: Mel Barlow

Do you have to make those fairly well in advance? Do they have to set?

Yes, they have to set. We make many flowers at the same time, so you can’t measure how long it would take to do a single flower. An orchid has six main parts. I couldn’t tell you the botanical names, but all of them have six parts. You have to cut them, shape them, and then trim the edge and let them dry overnight. Then you do the coloring and assembly. So a typical orchid will take a process of three days. Some orchids are very, very tiny. There’s a type called dancing ladies; even after each blossom is finished they are the size of a penny.


photo: Mel Barlow

What are you most proud of?

I will tell you my biggest achievement. When I went to the small school to study how to make flowers and decorate cakes, we called the flowers “gum paste” flowers. I was horrified by that term. [It is derived from the fact that] the sugar dough used to make flowers contains small amounts of natural vegetable gum, which acts as a stabilizer. The term “gum paste” — I thought it was wrong…So I kept saying to students and clients and magazines, “Sugar flower” “Sugar flower,” time and time again: “Never call it gum paste.” And now a lot of people are using that term “sugar flower”…It caught on, so that’s very exciting for me.

Do you have any favorite materials, styles, or flavors?

Before coming here I lived and worked in France and I loved passion fruit. I introduced passion fruit and butter cream and it didn’t catch on in the beginning…Then people started having it in some restaurants…and now that’s a big standard with us…We introduced a filling that is called “Mexican hot chocolate.” It has some cinnamon, chilli peppers — just a little kick in it…In terms of designing I really like to work with sugar paste, the dough that we use to make the flowers. It became my job at the bakery to make specific flowers. I make all the roses, for instance. But really anything to do with cakes and sugar, I like. I will tell you what I don’t like: I don’t like making little people out of sugar. I don’t like making cakes in the shape of a person or the head of a person…I will not make a cake that’s shaped like a dog; I don’t want to cut into your beloved dog.

Do you listen to anything while you’re working?

Yes, a lot of different styles [of music]. I prefer Broadway tunes. I like to listen to the whole score, and that doesn’t always go well with my bakers so we listen to a mix. I can go crazy during the holiday season but in general we agree who’s going to be the DJ for the day. I still think that for doing cake production, the best way to get people motivated and working well is to play 70’s disco. Everybody loves it. The cakes are happy.

Do you have a recent favorite project?

A recent project that I really loved was for the summer issue of Martha Stewart Weddings, making cakes inspired by heirloom handkerchiefs. It was ideal in many respects because everyone [on my staff] participated on it. We had to make a lot of the tools to achieve those techniques. The pieces of fabric were so unique, so everybody had something to do — from sketching, to baking, to making the molds, to assembling the cakes. It’s a project my crew was very happy with. When you work on a magazine commission you create prototypes. We had not done them before; they hadn’t been seen before. There was a sense of inventing something…hopefully that will become the new trend.

What’s the secret to making a cake taste as great as it looks?

I don’t really know. I would bottle it if I knew the secret. I think you have to be crazy [to do what I do.] You don’t get up in the morning to be normal. You seek the challenges. You want to find what’s unusual…[My work] makes me complete, so it’s not your regular job in the office. Some people are really good bakers and all I can do is teach…There’s procedure and books that we write on how to do things, but still you get some people who are good bakers and some who are not…Here’s the secret: If the cake rises consistently then you’ve got what it takes.

The minimum order for cakes by Ron Ben-Israel is $500. Pricing for wedding cakes begins at $16 per person. Novelty and sculpted cakes usually start at $1,500. Visit Ron Ben-Israel Cakes for more info.




Unless otherwise noted, all photos courtesy Ron Ben-Israel Cakes.

Unveiling the Latest Trends in Bridal Headwear 

This wedding season brides are taking a step away from tradition by opting for headwear other than a long white veil. If you’re up for trying something a little unconventional check out my favorite wedding veil alternatives below: crowns and flower halos, both perfect for a summertime fairytale wedding.


An actual crown is the latest trend in bridal headwear, and a chic alternative to a traditional veil or a tiara (which really only works if you’re Kate Middleton). While this look may not work for every bride, it’s a sure way to set yourself apart from the rest.





Floral Headpieces

Floral headpieces are no longer just for the flower girl anymore. These whimsical and bohemian floral halos are a versatile alternative and can be worn with an array of hairstyles: wavy curls, a braid or a simple updo.






Timeless & Trendy Beach Wedding Inspiration

As we approach August, (it feels like just yesterday we were freezing, doesn’t it?) I wanted to take a moment to look at these beautiful and unique beach wedding trends.

Whether you decide to get married on a secluded beach in the Hamptons or on a private island in the South Sea, these looks are sure to inspire a memorable summer celebration.


Just because you’re getting married at the beach and opt to go barefoot, doesn’t mean you cant accessorize! These anklets and a pretty pedicure will do just fine as a substitute for heels.


Shell Bouquets

Shell bouquets are are a fun non-floral option for a wedding on the water, which can be easily customized to match any color scheme.


Escort Cards

Escort cards are one of the first things your guests will see when they arrive at your reception. So be sure to select a unique card, like these lovely sand dollars below.


Lounge Areas

Beach receptions allow you to create inviting spaces with couches, hammocks, canopies and lounge chairs to give guests a chance to relax and wiggle their toes in the sand.



I love this passport invitation. It’s a sure way to get your guests excited for the big day!


Ron Ben-Israel Master of Cakes for Events and Weddings

Ron Ben-Israel with one of his creations

Ron Ben-Israel with one of his creations

Ron Ben-Israel is truly a master of his medium: cake. Some might say (understandably) that his creations are too beautiful to eat, but they’d be missing out, because this dancer-turned-pastry virtuoso creates cakes as delectable as they are visually stunning. Declared the “Manolo Blahnik of wedding cakes” by The New York Times, Ben-Israel is known for his shop’s breathtaking and sculptural sugar flowers. Ron was recently featured in the paper of record, which captured him shipping an oversized commission to Palm Beach, Florida.

When he’s not crafting the perfect custom cake for a client’s special occasion, he’s training the next generation of confectioners as Guest Master Pastry Chef at the International Culinary Center in New York, or donating his time and efforts as a member of the non-profit City Harvest’s Food Council. You’ll also find him hosting his sugar smackdown show, “Sweet Genius,” on the Food Network.

Clearly, he’s busy. But Ron was generous enough to chat with me about his work, his influences, trends in weddings today, and so much more. Enjoy!

When did you realize you wanted to be a pastry chef? And what did you do about it?

Honestly, I didn’t. I never made a conscious decision. I was always involved in baking and pastry. I started in my mother’s kitchen and I was always fascinated by the process. I loved watching. My first passion was Jell-O; it was miraculous to me…My mother is from Vienna and a lot of our family and friends are from Hungary, Germany, Eastern Europe, and they all used to make those amazing tortes and cakes. But I didn’t pursue it; I went to art school then I became a dancer. But over the years I always made cakes and people where so excited and said to me, “Could we hire you to do that?”

Whose work has had an influence on you?

When people started asking me [to make cakes for them] I realized I needed to put some thought and direction into it so I sought a mentor. I didn’t go to pastry school but I found a wonderful woman named Betty Von Norstrand. She teaches at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park and I met her in a cake shop when I went to buy some cake pans. I started taking classes with her in a little shop in New York and later I would travel and study with her privately. [We would] discuss all the possibilities and the history of decorating cakes. It happened very organically.

One of my other mentors was Rose Levy Beranbaum…I never thought of making cakes as a profession partially because the cakes I would eat at catering events and weddings tasted so vile. It’s a little bit better now but there was conflict between “pastry chefs” and “cake decorators.”…So-called “cake decorators” would make cakes that were practically hard on the outside, that would sit at room temperature and were not edible at all. Meanwhile, you had [pastry chef] people who made good cakes, but those had to be refrigerated and didn’t have all the decorations. There was a big conflict between them and I to accomplish in my cake [both] the inside — the flavor — and the look. So the person who influenced me a lot [in that respect] was Rose Levy Beranbaum, who wrote a few best sellers, among them is The Cake Bible…I had Betty [influencing me] on the decorating side and my work was really to put together those two worlds.


How do you know when a project is a success?

Because I am an artisan, I do work for hire. It’s not like an artist who decides to make something — it’s a different process. I serve a purpose. I am a servant in a way, and I humbly accept the title, so the success is the client being happy. Ultimately it’s about the celebration. It’s also a relief because my work is not hung in a museum; it’s not designed to reflect my inner soul… I also work in a community. All the venders that work on an event — the florists, the people who bring the tables and chairs, the lighting, the fashion, the other food — all these are part of what you would call a “good event.” I realise that I am part of a bigger whole and it’s not all about me. People have suggested that I should sign the cakes or have a logo on them. I want the style to speak for itself.

How long does it take to make one of your cakes?

It’s an interesting question because on the one hand, we have to complete everything within 24 hours for a cake to be fresh and delivered on time and so forth, and we are working to deadlines that come one after the other, so there is no way for us to make a cake too long in advance. But on the other hand, it takes a long time. For instance, the process really starts when we meet the client and we start to discuss the initial project, that happens a month in advance, sometimes it’s years.

When we start the design process there may be sketches back and forth, a process which I call “collecting the evidence.” We will get swatches of the lace and the beading from the dress designer. I will speak to the floral person. [We may look at] textures of the furniture, invitations, stationery, any special lighting. We recently did a wedding cake which was inspired by the streams of light over the dance floor…Once we have all that we also internally have to work on scheduling and figure out how to do it…A lot of the stuff can be made in advance because it’s not that perishable. All the cakes have an internal architectural structure that we can start working on: cutting boards, shaping cake stands. In the confectionary room we can start making flowers, leaves, decorations, ribbons, and bows — things that will last for months and actually take a long time to shape — which then allows us to approach the baking and assembling of the cake while it’s still fresh.

How big is your staff? Does it expand and contract according to the seasonal work?

I wish. But because the staff is so valuable, it really takes years to develop. We have eight people including me right now. Everybody went to pastry school. After school they come to me as interns and the internship can last between three to five months. If they do well as an intern and there’s an opening then they will be hired and work their way up.

What does it take for someone to have the stuff to work in your shop? What do you look for?

It has a lot to do with personality…When [applicants] send in their resume they go on about their passion. The requirement is much simpler: we need to see if the person really wants to learn and has the ability to do that and to adapt. So amazingly enough, the people who work best have no previous background. We’ve found that people who were athletes are really good in the kitchen. People who were dancers or performers, because they have the natural ability and need to rehearse and do things again and again. People who look for perfection…You can’t be so cocky that you would drop a cake because of over-confidence, but you can’t be so scared that you will never attempt to lift it. So it’s really about personality and of course talent…Sometimes you have talented people who can maybe draw but they’re not necessarily going to have a sense of urgency which is required [when working] with perishable media like cake…The reality is in order to get to the fun part — which is decorating the cake — there’s so much more going on and it’s very hard to get there by yourself.

What are some of the biggest challenges in your field now and what are some of the most exciting developments?

You can buy so many different tools online now and there are so many companies that produce tools that make cake design more accessible. I want to say it’s wonderful and it is, but on the other hand it’s less challenging…Everybody can make the same work at home, but that’s what happens — it all looks the same because people are not making their own tools…That’s a big pitfall. It’s wonderful that the industry is developing but you see a lot of copycats…Even when I find a recipe in a book I still work and develop it to make it my own; I won’t just keep repeating the same recipe…But there is a strong tendency with Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram to just see something and then do it exactly the same way.


What are some of the big trends you’re seeing in cakes now?

Our trends are organically grown in collaboration with all the other vendors. For instance…a few years ago Vera Wang did a wedding dress that had a black satin ribbon around the waist of the bride. It was a big scandal on the runway to see a bride with black but it was the hottest thing, so we started doing cakes with trims of black and they were very successful. Then I had one bride [who asked us] to do her cake in black icing with white details. The wedding was in the Gramercy Park Hotel and the dance floor there is all black and white and it was the perfect setting for the cake. So now doing cakes in black is almost a signature for us. They’re still very delicate and very bridal, they just have a strong contrast.

Then last season I started working a lot with grey…I started seeing bridal dresses that are grey, more and more grooms were wearing grey suits…It’s definitely a trend.

Swiss dots never go away — that’s little dots on a grid — but usually it gives you a very cute feeling, like an apron. But if we are doing the wedding in a very contemporary location such as the Mandarin Oriental, I would suggest we increase the size of the dots to be like buttons, and then the whole thing becomes super contemporary.

The past couple of years: metallics. The movie The Great Gatsby was a great example, so everybody had more metallics in the decor, in the outfits, and definitely in the stationery and registry, so that was a natural thing to bring to the cake.


How has reality TV impacted what you do?

I think it helps tremendously…People realise that it takes a lot to make a cake. I’m very happy about that….It gives people a glimpse into our industry. Some of my colleagues believe that maybe those shows make people believe things are easy but I don’t see it like that. I think it exposes the drama.

Scroll down to see more of Ron’s amazing work, and check back here soon for Part Two of my interview him!

Ron-Ben-Israel-Cakes-4-blog Ron-Ben-Israel-Cakes-14-blogRon-Ben-Israel-Cakes-9blogRon-Ben-Israel-Cakes-11blogRon-Ben-Israel-Cakes-13blogAll photos courtesy of Ron Ben-Israel Cakes

Matthew David Celebrations Launches New Studio

360 design office party, Tuesday, May 6, 2014Exciting news here at Matthew David Celebrations! We’ve moved into our new studio space at 237 W. 37th Street and couldn’t be happier. After a year of searching, designing, and building, it feels great to be settled in!

We celebrated the occasion — and the arrival of warm weather to New York! — with an open house.

Clients, partners, and friends came out on a gorgeous spring night and enjoyed delicious bites and refreshing custom cocktails by Sonnier & Castle; our friends at Luxe Event Rentals and Décor provided chic seating and additional furnishings for the soireé

Another reason that we’re so excited about our new home is that we share the floor with bespoke evening and bridalwear studio Guillermo Couture. Our vision is to be the ultimate full-service private event studio, offering personalized and one-of-a-kind design and planning, from the perfect, customized dress to exceptional, unforgettable décor. In other words: we’re a one-stop shop that makes creating the perfect event unbelievably effortless!

360 design office party, Tuesday, May 6, 2014 Guillermo Molina and Matthew David Hopkins: We created our studios on the same floor – with shared reception and conference rooms.

360 design office party, Tuesday, May 6, 2014Luxe Event Rentals carries a gorgeous inventory and they graciously partnered with us for the evening.

360 design office party, Tuesday, May 6, 2014Anthony Latorella, Tiffany Green, Susan Schroeder & Karla Crespo, part of the Matthew David Celebrations Events Team.

360 design office party, Tuesday, May 6, 2014Douglas Hood, part of the Matthew David Celebrations team chatting with guests.

360 design office party, Tuesday, May 6, 2014Sonnier and Castle showcased their stylish and delicious savory canapés and Spring themed spirits.360 design office party, Tuesday, May 6, 2014 360 design office party, Tuesday, May 6, 2014 360 design office party, Tuesday, May 6, 2014

360 design office party, Tuesday, May 6, 2014 Cocktails ready to go on our signature video trays with embedded iPads.

360 design office party, Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Special thanks to:



Shine On! Metallic Wedding Decor and Accents

Metallics are having a moment. These shiny accents are popping up in fashion, home décor, and yes, wedding celebrations. Special occasions and metallics are made for each other — there’s something intrinsically festive about all things shiny and sparkling. 

Metallic elements can be big and bold, or sophisticated and subtle, it just depends on how you use them. Here are a few ways to incorporate metallic pieces into your special day, whether you’re a romantic rose gold, suave silver, or captivating copper kind of bride. 




love-ring-bloggold-dress-2-blog rose-gold-wedding-shoes-blogRedBliss-gold-disc-blog gold-invite-blog

Luxury Destination Wedding Ideas: Scottsdale, Arizona

Destination weddings deliver a special kind of magic. The combination of close friends and family, a remarkable setting, and a personal ceremony and celebration make for an unforgettable experience. They’re kind of like the adult version of the best slumber party ever, with sleeping bags swapped out for queen size beds and an expertly mixed cocktail in place of Diet Coke.  

If the idea of a destination wedding appeals to you, the big question, of course, is where to hold your event. I’ll be considering some of my favorite destination wedding locales here on the blog, complete with decor ideas inspired by the setting, and thoughts on what you and your guests can do in the days before or after the matrimonial main event.

Scottsdale, Arizona


image via

A southwest wedding can strike many moods, from sophisticated and spare to relaxed and down-home. I’m thinking of the beauty of the desert landscape and red rock formations (the perfect foil for a white wedding dress); willowy grasses, cacti and succulents, as well as the rich Native American and western ranch culture of the region.

For an unforgettable and elegant rehearsal dinner, consider Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, the famed architect’s winter home and apprentice training facility. Set within the McDowell Mountain range, the collection of Prairie-style buildings is surrounded by plantings of native species and offers a stunning view of Paradise Valley below. It’s Southwest sophistication at its best.


If you’re looking to create a more rambunctious celebration before the big day, I recommend the Buffalo Chip Saloon and Steakhouse in nearby Cave Creek, AZ. The western-themed venue offers a full menu of hearty barbecue and comfort food fare, as well as live music, dancing, and bull riding. (Yes, bull-riding.)


When I designed this private event celebrating the region’s Native American tribes, the decor directly reflected the evening’s theme. An over-sized tipi served as the venue, with projections of Native American symbols decorating the walls. A carefully designed “view” of a clear night sky filled with the moon and stars was visible when guests looked up.


The Phoenician Resort is a wonderful choice for a ceremony, as well as accommodations. The property offers several locations for hosting weddings, from ballrooms to lush gardens with mountain views.

There’s nothing quite like The Canyon Suites at the Phoenician, a boutique hotel located within the resort. In addition to luxury accommodations and personalized service, guests also enjoy a private infinity pool the resort’s world-famous golf course. Other diversions include a daily wine tasting, The Phoenician’s $25 million art collection, and a menu of treatments at the property’s Centre For Well-Being Spa.


Beyond the resort, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art is home to a permanent public art piece by James Turrell, and Fashion Square  is a fun stop for those wanting to engage in a little retail therapy. 

Do you know of a Scottsdale area gem I missed? I’d love to hear about it!

7 Inspiring Table Décor Ideas From DIFFA’s Dining By Design

The Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS, or DIFFA, which supports organizations working on prevention, treatment and education in the fight against HIV/AIDS, recently hosted its 17th annual Dining By Design event. Held in conjunction with the Architectural Digest Home Design Show for the sixth consecutive year, the fundraiser celebrates three-dimensional dining installations created by both internationally celebrated designers, and promising local talent. Every year produces a new crop of inspiring tableaus and design ideas, each one wildly different from the next. (And yes, people actually dine in these unique environments, at the organization’s Gala Dinner.)

While of course I feel that designing a large-scale celebration is best left to the professionals (most importantly, so the host can relax and enjoy!), I think there are many ideas at DIFFA to appreciate and even borrow for your next intimate gathering.

Here are few of my favorite tables at DIFFA’s 2014 Dining By Design. Did you have a favorite? I’d love to know which one!

Ralph Lauren Home

This romantic display from Ralph Lauren Home incorporates plenty of elements you could replicate for a spring al fresco gathering: large hurricanes with white pillar candles, cherry blossom branches in bloom, and café string lights.


Calvin Klein Home

This table from Calvin Klein Home is pared down, natural, and so pleasing, with neutral tones, natural materials, and the fresh accent of a bright green moss “runner.”


2Michaels for Beacon Hill

This table designed by 2Michaels for Beacon Hill has a distinct Japanese influence, thanks to elements such as the simple light fixture, abstract mountain print, dark wood stools, and bamboo enclosure.


Marc Blackwell New York

I don’t expect you to construct a sculptural enclosure for your dining table, as Marc Blackwell New York did, but you could arrange a collection of single stemmed, monochromatic blooms in individual bottles to create a striking centerpiece.



This stunning tableau from Arteriors is a wonderful mashup of an eastern sensibility and Hollywood glamour.


Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s table is a sophisticated mix of industrial and modern in black and gold.


Uxe Interiors + Design and Fendi Casa, Designed by Philip Gorrivan        

I love the combination of sleek black seating, proper white china, and a burst of romantic color from a central bouquet in this table by Uxe Interiors + Design and Fendi Casa, Designed by Philip Gorrivan. The walls featuring sketched architectural details and an oversized photo of a grand hallway, almost transport you to Versailles.