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As the host of Sweet Genius, the sugar-packed competition series in which four chefs bake their hearts out for a chance to earn $10,000, it is master pastry chef Ron Ben-Israel’s job to maintain a stoic and, at times, intimidating persona. In the second season of the show, viewers can expect much of the same from the Sweet Genius, though they also will get to know Ron the person and find out why he’s so enthusiastic about pastry. I caught up with Ron at his welcoming New York City bakery, and we chatted about the show over cake and tea.
Comparing the previous season to the upcoming one, Ron explained, “We featured a certain angle — a little bit of a Dr. Evil. The idea was that the chefs would be very scared — as they should be, because for $10,000, you better be scared — and we kept it. Some people loved it, and some people hated it. But a lot of what makes me funny, what makes me excited was not seen. In the second season, you definitely see what makes me passionate and what makes me upset.” New episodes will show that Ron is as quick to dismiss the contestants’ creations as he is to praise them. “When something was great, I really loved it. But when something was not so good, I told them if they were wasting their time,” he said.
Those moments of high achievement and unfortunate struggle will be featured in greater lengths this season and allow viewers to learn more about the chefs and their culinary histories and to form relationships with them, much like Ron does. “Emotionally, the show is really out there. I don’t know what it was, but I felt that I really connected with the chefs. They were very expressive with their feelings,” he said. “People who worked together were competing against each other. You had people who went to school together. There was a lot of camaraderie and help, but it is also a competition, and $10,000 is at stake based on one day’s work.” With such personal relationships being tested, it is no surprise that while on set, Ron found himself asking the question, “Who is going to cry today?”
Sharing a bit of insider information, Ron revealed that the second season of Sweet Genius will feature a change in the way the competition is played. No longer will chefs be forced to create icy treats in the daunting, clock-challenging Frozen round. Instead, competitors must fashion candy concoctions, in addition to chocolate and baked goods. “The reason we wanted to do candy,” he dished, “is because it’s a whole new world. Candy could be a lollipop, but it could be a candied fruit, it could be a bonbon, it could be anything. Make sugar made of chocolate, made of fruit, made of nuts.”
Whether the chefs are tasked with preparing candy, chocolate or baked pieces, Chef Ron noted that the inspiration to craft sugary creations is quite endless. He has found that to be true not only in the Sweet Genius arena, but in his professional baking career as well, which focuses primarily on multi-tier wedding cakes that are as extravagant and exquisitely decorated as they are moist and tasty.
Tune in to Food Network on Thursday, March 15 at 10pm/9c to catch the second season premiere of Sweet Genius.