Who Is Sweet Genius Chef Ron Ben-Israel?
I watch the Food Network from time to time. Okay, I watch Food Network a lot more than I care to admit. Ina Garten and Alex Guarneschelli are two of my personal favorites. Bobby Flay has grown on me (my first impression of Flay as cocky and self-centered has softened) – and so has Guy Fieri (who, when he’s not criss-crossing the country visiting greasy spoons, actually has some pretty-decent cooking chops).
The “challenge” or reality-based shows are not my thing, so I usually bypass the show “Sweet Genius”. However, I’ve been intrigued by the host enough that I forced myself to watch parts of a couple of episodes recently. The host – Ron Ben-Israel – is an interesting person to say the least. I started wondering what his background is and learned the following details:
Ron Ben-Israel is 55, and was born and raised in Israel. After serving as a soldier with the Israel Defense Forces, he became an accomplished dancer. Sometime in the mid-1990’s, he was forced to retire from dancing and took up baking, which was something he loved to do in his childhood.
Baking allowed Ben-Israel to stay in America and it also ushered in a new career. He opened a catering/baking shop in New York City and became known for his highly-detailed decorated cakes. Martha Stewart saw one of the cakes and invited him to her estate to visit.
Eventually, he started being featured on the Food Network, where they made him the host of his own show.
In researching Ron Ben-Israel online, I discovered that a lot of people find his show “Sweet Genius” strange.
One blog poster put it this way:
The Food Network sees pastry chef Ron Ben-Israel with his evil bald head and crafts a show around it. The premise is solid: An evil genius on a spaceship orbiting Phobos forces chefs to make desserts using surprise ingredients secreted by a caged Gorgon; the losers are ejected into deep space to quietly asphyxiate while the winner receives one million dollars and is fed to the Gorgon.
But then, there’s the conveyor belt.
The evil genius Ben-Israel leans over, giggling at what a fun turn his career seems to have taken, and presses it, setting into motion a conveyor belt that conveys the surprise ingredients.
A conveyor belt on a cooking show is like a big sign that screams, QUALITY SHOW RIGHT HERE. On the conveyor belt are curious things, like Otter Pops or streptococcus for the “ingredients” and bowling balls and toilet assemblies for the “theme,” seemingly picked on the fly by an intern that morning during an elevator ride at Food Network HQ. Actually, that’s exactly how they are picked.
All the while Ben-Israel plays host and runs commentary on the action on the floor.
The chef-prisoners then incorporate the stuff into their deserts, usually at the last minute, via liquid nitrogen, hot oil, or hammer. Unfortunately, monomaniacal Ben-Israel is also monosyllabic. Walking around the spaceship, he says things like, “You are cooking something” and “This is sugar” and “chocolate.
Other source material courtesy of wikipedia.com