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Sharing the Slice: Finding Balance

On Sunday, March 24th, 2019 the International Culinary Center hosted a jam-packed day of discussions and networking for pastry professionals at the second Pastry Plus Conference. Pastry Plus provides a unique opportunity to connect the innovative minds of pastry professionals to meet and discuss the changing landscape of the industry. As a community, pastry chefs, sous chefs, line cooks, bakers and pastry business owners address the evolving workplace, learn about industry innovations and expand the sphere of the modern pastry chef.

panelThe theme of this year’s conference, Sharing the Slice, focused on how the industry must consider the way in which we connect and share information. Cooking has always been a shared experience. As Emily Luchetti—Chief Pastry Officer of Big Night Restaurant Group & ICC Dean of Pastry—shared in her conference address, pastries and desserts are innately created to be shared at the end of a meal. The morning forum, presented by our partner Callebaut®, brought to light how chefs share ideas and communicate in today’s changing landscape of modern technology. The panel discussion moderated by Mitchell Davis, Chief Strategy Officer of The James Beard Foundation, featured Zoe Kanan (Head Baker of Simon & The Whale and The Studio), Rose Levy Beranbaum (Cookbook Author) and Ron Ben-Israel (Owner of Ron Ben-Israel Cakes). Everything from the future of cookbooks to the risks and rewards of increased connection through social media were discussed.

zoe kananPastry Plus also provides an opportunity for current ICC students to volunteer for the day’s events—sit in on panels, individual classes and meet their future colleagues in the industry. Current ICC Professional Pastry Arts student, Samantha Daily was one of 15 volunteers that attended the conference. Samantha began the day greeting guests; little did she know VIP guests and speakers would also be entering with attendees. She shared that this was her “first indication of just how much this conference drew professionals from the pastry industry together.” From industry legends like Elizabeth Falkner and Claudia Flemming, to rising pastry talents like Zoe Kanan and Eunji Lee, Samantha remarked that “everyone was treated equally”. “Everyone walked in the same door, had the same breakfast, and attended the same conference,” said Samantha. We asked Samantha to share some of her biggest takeaways from the panel and opening forum to hear from the next generation of pastry professionals. Read below to hear about her experience at Pastry Plus!

Social Media Promotes The Sharing of Ideas

rose levy barenbaumRose Levy Beranbaum, author of The Cake Bible, spoke about how cookbooks once sparked a change in the industry by pushing people to share what they know. Before cookbooks were widely popularized, chefs guarded their techniques and recipes as secrets. Cookbooks built the foundation of communication among professionals and home cooks alike.

Today, social media and the internet have completely changed the landscape. For better or worse, chefs are almost expected to share what they know. The positive is that often by sharing their ideas through posts on their social channels, they allow budding chefs to grow through their knowledge and connect with other colleagues around the world.

Ron Ben-Israel shared the story of how he met Rose years ago. At the time, there was no direct message on social media to contact someone you admired. Instead, Ron wrote to the publisher of Rose’s cookbook with words of admiration for her work. The letter made its way to Rose and she ended up meeting with Ron because he took the time to write to her. Nowadays, Ron commented that this has changed within the industry because of social media, and it’s not always positive. Instead of decorum and professionalism, people often message him on Instagram asking for his recipes. As someone who values teaching others, he would be willing to share helpful tips, but there is an air of expectation with this communication that does not promote growth in the industry. What is his suggestion to rising chefs? Strive to build relationships with chefs and learn from them in a different setting.

Giving Credit is Important

The panelists all agreed—giving credit where credit is due is essential to protecting other chef’s brands, hard work and promoting your own reputation. Many chefs post their creations and share their recipes, but it can be off putting when many people, other chefs included, use their ideas without recognizing who they took inspiration from. Innovation is something we strive for in our industry, so to discover a new way of doing something just to have it stolen by another can be disheartening. Giving credit shows integrity and respect, and in turn, builds your reputation within the tight-knit pastry community.

On the Topic of Following Others…

emily luchettiIn Emily Luchetti’s opening speech, she shared that “you won’t find your own style by following what everyone else is doing.” This speaks volumes about what is happening on social media today. It is too easy to see what others are doing and repeat their post. So, how can you be innovative without simply following what is trendy? Ron and Rose agreed with panelist Zoe Kanan when she spoke of trusting her instincts to follow those you admire. Use social media and cookbooks as a source of inspiration, but listen to “the mixing bowl in your mind” to create your own style and become who you’re meant to be as a pastry chef.

Trends vs. Innovation

Trends only last so long. Maybe a week, or a month, but they are fleeting and soon replaced by the next trend. Innovation is progression and evolution. It is something we should be striving for as a pastry community. Innovation is what will further the industry as a whole, ensuring that classic and modern pastry techniques are carried into the future. Innovation lasts—trends change.

About Samantha Daily

samantha daily and christina tosiSamantha Daily is a current student in the Professional Pastry Program here at ICC! She grew up cooking and baking with her mom and sister and has always had a passion for it. She was in school studying equine science and management when she got the amazing opportunity to compete on MasterChef season 9, going on to place 4th in the competition and was blessed with an amazing scholarship from Gordon Ramsay. While in school, she is getting the most out of her experience by attending almost all of the demonstrations & events and working part time at fellow ICC alumna Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar.

Autumn Wedding Cake Design Demo with Ron Ben-Israel

Written by Olivia Hamilton
Current Culinary Arts Student

The Sweet Genius and Guest Master Pastry Chef, Ron Ben Israel treated us to a beautiful demo last week. He showed us how to design one of his beautifully crafted 3-tier cakes with a marble finish. This was a real treat (especially eating it after).

Before he started on the main part of the cake design, he and his “elf helpers” (student volunteers) worked from the outside in. The cake was to be an autumn theme, so what is fall without some leaves? Chef Ron Ben Israel used a pasta maker during the demo to roll out the sugar paste, which he said: “each machine is different but it’s better than by hand for consistency”. After going through the machine to achieve the desired thickness, the “elves” started placing the thing sugar paste into silicon molds or using cookie cutters to make the leaves.

You don’t want to use metallic when working with the silicone since it is likely to damage it. Once the leaves had a shape, Chef showed them how to make the leaves seem more lifelike. The trick is using a metal ball fondant tool to thin the edges out a bit more to replicate real leaves which are “thin, delicate and elegant”. You also always want to be working close to yourself to help with accuracy. Another key factor is, once the sugar paste is ready you must work fast or it will dry out. Next, Chef started creating the fondant to be used on the exterior of the cake. The challenging part about making marble designs is you never know how it will turn out.

To be able to complete all this, one must be very organized. Chef Ron Ben Israel credited his organizational skills when he was a disco dancer back in the day. Chef Israel was actually a professional dancer for about 15 years after being in the Israeli army. So I asked, “how did you realize that cakes were your passion?”. To which Chef responded, “I was in the desert and saw a burning bush and saw a wedding cake in that burning bush”. He then explained that when he was younger he always liked the kitchen and would spend time there with his mom. Though, she would always kick him out since he never liked to clean! Pastry chefs always seem to be somewhat of a happy comedian and Chef Israel is no exception. Perhaps it’s all the sugar they consume.

How did he really get involved in the pastry world? Well, it’s much like anyone else when you move to a new place, you need a job. When Chef Ron Ben Israel first moved to the US he needed income and new the right person to ask. He asked his friend who helped him get a job at a chocolate store and after 2 weeks he was addicted.

He then became a cake designer and would create displays for store windows. Luckily for him, Martha Stewart walked by one day and wanted his help for her wedding magazine she was starting. The hustle was real; Chef Ron Ben Israel also rented a space at night from a caterer that had everything he needed for doing cakes. Hard work, determination, talent and a bit of luck is really what is needed to become successful. He credits networking for helping him establish his business. Later in his career, Founder Dorothy Cann Hamilton invited him to do a cake demo and after talking to her for 5 minutes, he decided to become an instructor (something he never thought he would do).1

Back to putting together the cake, Chef Israel had many interesting tools including a PVC pipe that he purchased at a local plumbing store. Chef Ron is very serious about supporting locals business. The PVC he said is great because it can be put in the dishwasher along with it being the right weight to place on top of the fondant. Of the 3 tiers, the top and bottom already had their marbling fondant thanks to one of our graduates (Margret) who works for Chef Ron Ben Israel. He also said that his Sue Chef is another ICC grad that was hired years ago and has never left.

The marbling look was created by placing pieces of different shades of grey fondant overlapping then rolling it out. Every marble look is unique since there is no exact way to do it. Chef Israel then draped the fondant for the middle tier cake and used his tools to flatten the top and keep the sides in tight, along with cutting off the bottom. The cake is almost complete! Chef likes to be very precise so he uses miter boxes to cut the bamboo dowels that help support the cake. It’s important to measure your dowels based off the original cut dowel, otherwise is easier to get a variation of sizes. Each dowel was placed an inch from the outside of the cake to help support the next tier. After they had all been stacked, Chef Ron Ben Israel uses nontoxic kids glue to help glue the outside bottom for the ribbon (not edible).

The leaves were then painted with shades of gold for some pop, then placed all around the cake. Royal icing can be used as glue but it makes a space, turns white and/or leaves a mark. Whereas piping gel is clear and if you mess up you can wipe it off without leaving a mark. Once all the leaves were placed, the most important part of cake creation took place; pictures and eating it! It was the best fall spice cake I have ever had. This is what I want for my birthday, wedding, anniversary, and any other good reason to enjoy such an amazing masterpiece!