Fans of Food Network’s fantastical dessert competition “Sweet Genius” have noticed a few intriguing changes in the multisensory sensation’s second season, now airing on Thursday nights. Most notably, the Sweet Genius — New York pastry chef Ron Ben-Israel — finally gets to be, well, sweet. In other words, himself.
The Israel-born former modern dancer laughs when asked about this kinder, gentler Genius.
“In the first season the producers really wanted to frighten the chefs,” he tells Zap2it, “But pretty soon we realized that they are going to be afraid of me, one way or another. And I always wanted to encourage them. So it’s a compromise. I get to encourage them – and then we give them such impossible ingredients and hard challenges that it’s still scary.”
The new season’s other change is equally sweet. Contestants ready to create the unique baked desserts and fanciful frozen confections that so vexed their predecessors in their pursuit of each episode’s $10,000 prize found that the game had changed, too. They would be creating chocolate desserts, candies and — yikes! — cakes for the cake master, himself.
“I had to try every little dessert in the first season,” Ben-Israel says of his decision to tweak the challenges. “And I concluded that sometimes with crazy, crazy ingredients the result would not exactly be, shall we say, appetizing? We also have to deal with very attractive desserts, because we eat first with our eyes, and it’s so hard — even with more friendly ingredients — to come up with an original design. So I really wanted to concentrate on the inspirations.” Inspirations that include magicians, ballerinas and family bonds.
Ultimately, Ben-Israel aims to embolden his proteges to always think outside the box.
“I agreed to the role of the Sweet Genius as long as everybody works to the same goal — to create magnificent desserts,” he says. “But it’s still a game. So as long as everybody is willing to play with me, I am happy!”
What has been your strangest fan encounter?
“I went to a costume shop to prepare myself for Halloween and I was dressed up as a dancing bear. I thought no one would recognize me, but another group of revelers started screaming loud, ‘He’s the Sweet Genius! He’s the Sweet Genius!’ “
What are your three favorite magazines?
“Food Network Magazine. I also love Martha Stewart Weddings. And the last one I’ve been subscribing to for over 20 years — New York Magazine.”
What are three must-haves in your fridge?
“I always have Ottomanelli chicken bones to make soup. I have fresh ginger — it’s my ultimate favorite component. And I’m a great sparkling water drinker.”
Is there a dance performance you never tire of?
“That is a huge question! I love Balanchine — can I say a choreographer I’d always watch, instead?”