Last weekend I attended the Retail Bakers of America Baking Expo in Atlantic City, NJ. I was joined by two of my fellow baker friends. The convention hall was packed with baking related businesses from shortening to cake boxes. For me, however, the highlight of the event was attending hands-on classes with two of my favorite cake decorators, Ron Ben-Isreal and Bronwen Webber. The 20 student classes were small and intimate, providing a relaxed and interactive environment. Bronwen taught cake sculpting where we carved, sculpted and decorated a very cute Frankenstein head cake. Bronwen’s ‘perkiness’ is quite infectious and her outgoing personality made for lots of laughs and a great time. As much as I enjoyed her class, I must admit that sitting in front of Ron Ben-Israel for four hours was the highlight of the event for me.
Cutting the Rose Cake
Not only did he instruct us in the art of sugar flowers, but he brought along a freshly baked cake from his bakery in New York. He actually cut, plated and personally served it to each of us. The cake was outstanding – passion fruit, lemon and coconut. He sold us some of the silicone molds he hand made himself along with a fabulous set of cutters, not available for sale to the public. He could have offered tongue depressors for sale and we would have purchased them! He graciously let us ask everything we could think of, which he answered sometimes in detail and other times somewhat vaguely, and then posed for photos for what seemed like forever. I’ll spare you my cheesy mug. He was leaving from the convention center straight to the airport to catch a flight to Tel Aviv. You’d never have guessed the man was in a rush. I loved his calm and relaxed nature. As if being with Ron Ben-Isreal wasn’t enough, we had the pleasure of having Zac Young assisting in Ron Ben-Isreal’s class. Zac Young is the pastry chef at Butter Restaurant in New York City. He was oh, so entertaining. Check out Zac’s ‘Bakeware’ dress at the recent New York Chocolate show (see link below).
Some interesting information on Ron Ben-Israel: He is a professionally trained ballet and modern dancer. He has been referred to as the ‘Manolo Blahnik’ of cake. His cake shop in New York’s trendy SoHo is Kosher Certified. He will only hire interns that are enrolled in culinary school, no exceptions. Students of the French Culinary Institute are taught sugar flower work by Ron Ben-Isreal during a two day course. He is very positive and upbeat. He makes his own amazing sugar paste, which he says should NEVER be referred to as ‘gumpaste’ (we had the opportunity to use this in class and take some home even though we couldn’t pry the recipe out of him!!!).
The convention featured a live cake decorating contest, a bread making contest hosted by the Food Network’s Keegan Gerhard, and many other demonstrations and presentations. One of the presentations I enjoyed very much was Buddy Valastro’s (from Carlo’s Bakery in New Jersey) where he addressed wedding cake trends followed by an interesting and amusing Q&A session. Buddy was extremely funny, with his thick Jersey accent and great sense of humor. The man tells it like it is – just the way I like it. I laughed like crazy each time we were around him. He brings back memories of my childhood growing up in New York City.
Bakery Crafts Booth
Colette Peters gave live demonstrations at the Pfeil & Holing booth each day of the show. Each time we passed by it, she was demonstrating something or other for a handful of people. The Bakery Craft booth was really beautiful with many colorful cakes and product displays.
Bakery Crafts Booth
Julie Bashore, Master Confectioner and sugar artist galore, had a booth with some of her beautiful cakes on display. She demonstrated a few of her decorating techniques and offered some of her products for sale. She no longer owns the House of Clarendon bakery she made famous, but now dedicates herself to teaching. I loved her personality and look forward to our planned master class together.
Here’s a shout out to my cake peeps…Happy Birthday to my baker friend Lucia, whose ‘-th’ (shhhhh, it’s a secret) birthday we celebrated over dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe on Sunday along with a few other folks. Also, a big thank you to my baker friend Sherry for putting up with me in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep and for the military style 5:30am wake up calls! All in all, the three day event was a huge success! I thoroughly enjoyed myself. All of us are ready for next year’s event.
Atlantic City sure has changed. It’s been about 10 or 11 years since I saw it last. It’s more of a concrete jungle with less of the ‘ghetto’ and slum-like feel it used to have. Get ready to pay, and pay well, for staying there. The hotels fee you to death and parking prices are staggering. There is great shopping throughout the area, and plenty to see and do if you’re not in the mood to stroll on the boardwalk or breathe in cigarette smoke in the casinos. Don’t venture too far from the immediate area or you’ll wish you had a police escort. Should you find yourself in Atlantic City, stop by Frank Sinatra’s old stomping grounds and favorite eatery, the White House Sub Shop, located on the corner of Artic and Mississippi Avenue. Try the Philly with cheese or the Italian house specialty while you gaulk at the photos of famous patrons over the years plastered all over the walls. Fast service, cash only – New Jersey style.