As part of "Feeding Tube" week, it seems appropriate to ask someone what it’s like to actually be on a food show. Problem is, longtime pros like Anthony Bourdain and Jacques Pépin have been doing this for so long, they can’t remember what it was like before they made it big. Luckily, Ron Ben-Israel’s Sweet Genius premiered just a month ago, so the host is still getting acclimated to the feeling of being on TV every week. He sat down to talk about hate mail that hurts his feelings, hoping his new stardom helps him meet his own personal Brad Pitt look-alike, and experiencing the ultimate star-meter mind-fuck: finding out someone is dressing up like you for Halloween.
Thanks for talking to Grub Street!
Of course! But my dream is for [Daily] Intel to call me! Every day I go to Intel, then Grub Street, then Vulture … that’s my routine.
If you want Intel so badly, you’re going to need a scandal …
Well, hmmm, okay: I just agreed to do the third latke festival at BAM.
No, that won’t work. So, what does it feel like to be a Food Network star?
I don’t know, because nobody used the term "star" for me yet. It’s true that people are recognizing me more. I was shopping for my own Halloween costume, and I saw these people who said they are going to dress up like me! They’re going to be me, from Sweet Genius.
Is that different from the real you?
The way I appear on the show is a character I play, it’s definitely not who I am. The real me is about inspiration, not yelling. When you have these shows, there’s actually a script, written by a writer, so every day I had to learn a new script. Only the judges have some kind of ad-lib. I don’t say say things like, "This is a devilishly, delicious, and devastating cake!" Nobody talks like that! They wanted the script to have a Willy Wonka effect.
Are you enjoying it, though?
I love every second of it.
What does it feel like being judged by all the viewers?
It frustrates me, but I trust that the second season will give me more chances to show my full personality and get more people to understand me … but there has been some critique about my eyelashes. Some people think that I’m wearing extensions, but they’re all mine. I don’t have any hair on top of my head, I might as well not have eyelashes, right? I was hurt in the beginning reading such things. People post on the Internet boards anonymously and there’s no way I can respond. But I have to tell myself that the positive remarks outweigh the negative. If you don’t like me, don’t watch me! And my eyelashes are all real! On the record! Some female viewers even write in that they want theirs to look like mine. Why shouldn’t I be pretty? I’m in the pretty business.
But it’s been good for business?
Oh yeah! People are on time for all their appointments now, and even earlier. They say things like: "It’s an honor to meet you!" It’s so funny, because I’ve been doing this for fifteen years … but clients attach a lot of importance to TV.
I was hoping to get more dates, but that hasn’t happened yet. I’m looking for Brad Pitt, you know? But I’d settle for less. Please put that I’m single and available for dating.
What does a first date with Ron Ben-Israel look like?
First we’ll go to the Lambs Club, because it’s a beautiful surrounding; then see Bernadette Peters; then, if all goes well, we’ll go see Joel de la Cruz, my favorite pastry chef at Blue Hill, and have five pastries.
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Sloshed TV: Grub Street’s Pitch for the First-Ever Non-Boring Booze Show
The Feeding Tube: Ten Restaurants That Need to Take a Food-TV Hiatus
Ten Important Moments in Food-TV Recipe History
Buttered Up: A Look at Paula Deen’s Financial Empire