One of America’s most beloved cake masters shares insights on what his New York gay grooms are looking for
Ron Ben-Israel, whose mother is Viennese, was born in Israel, where he served in the Israeli army.
“I had to come out when I joined the military service at 18,” Ben-Israel says. “I went to art school before the military and I was always open about being gay because the artistic environment didn’t condemn it. With the Israeli Defense Forces I had to choose between hiding who I was or declare my being gay upfront.”
After serving, he left his home country to become a professional modern dancer in Canada, where he performed across stages in three continents for 15 years. While studying in Canada, Ron also wrote for a magazine called The Body Politic, one of Canada’s first significant gay publications, which played a prominent role in the development of the LGBT community in Canada.
After apprenticeships and engagements in Toronto, Canada and Lyon, France, the creative genius was led to New York City. In 1996, his cakes were discovered while on display in the windows of Mikimoto on Fifth Avenue and commissions quickly followed from Villeroy & Boch, Baccarat, DeBeer’s, Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf-Goodman.
In 1999, Ben-Israel established his flagship design studio and bakery in Manhattan’s fashionable SoHo neighborhood. After calling SoHo home for fifteen years, the company’s flagship location moved to a new, expansive location in the heart of Manhattan’s famous Garment District.
The collections of his trendsetting cakes have been featured in countless books, TV shows, films and publications, including The New York Times, In Style, Vogue Magazine and Martha Stewart Weddings, where Ron and his work were recently highlighted in the 20th anniversary issue. You also can spot RBI Cakes in many of New York’s premiere hotels and venues, as well as see Ben-Israel as a judge on Food Network’s show “Cake Wars,” on Monday nights at 8/7 C p.m.
Ben-Israel is an active community member of City Harvest’s Food Council and its Advisory Board, which brings together more than 60 of New York City’s top chefs, restaurateurs and food industry professionals to aid the organization in the fight against hunger. Ron also is an active supporter of Lambda Legal Defense and an advocate of same-sex marriage.
We sat down to chat with Ron, the chef and owner of one of the country’s finest couture cake studios, about trends he’s seeing in wedding cakes for two gay men or two gay women.
Visit weddingcakes.com for more on Ron Ben-Israel and see examples of his glorious wedding cakes for two grooms below our interview.
What are two-groom couples in New York looking for in their wedding cakes?
The range of cakes we designed for two-groom couples is as varied as the celebrants themselves. Some are interested in a more traditional looking cake, as just the act of legally getting married is enough of a statement for them. But most of our gay male clients want to incorporate their personality and taste sensibilities in the cake, and therefore we devote extensive time to the design process.
How can men or two masculine women ensure that their cake doesn’t look too girlie but also too kitschy either? What are good key words to use with their cake maker? Does handsome apply?
Any descriptive words can help a baker design a cake, but visuals are the better than labels. We always have to be careful with words that could be too restrictive or insulting for certain segments of the community. I suggest bringing to the cake appointment anything related to the reception: colors, flowers, linen, photos of the location, invitation. Inspiration is everywhere – what the celebrants are wearing, their interests, and their mutual past can all find a place on the cake.
Do gay men ever surprise each other with grooms cakes?
So far we’ve only provided a singular cake for male couples, but I like the idea. Let’s suggest that, and we’ll have three cakes for every wedding!
Are any of your gay male clients ordering frothy, romantic and feminine wedding cakes or are they usually going for traditionally masculine on their big day?
I myself love frothy, romantic and feminine wedding cakes… But rather than define certain cake designs of ours as “masculine,” I would say that they are more graphic or conceptual.
Photos: wedding cake photos courtesy of Ron Ben-Israel. Headshot of Ron Ben-Israel by Christian Oth