Interview: Duff Goldman

Ace of Cake’s Duff Goldman is the owner of Charm City Cakes and is widely recognized as one of the best bakers in the world. He is a judge on Food Network’s baking competitions like Kid’s Baking Championship and Spring Baking Championships. He is currently starring in Season 2 of Buddy vs Duff on Food Network Sunday nights. We caught up with Duff at his home near Los Angeles to talk about baking, some hidden food gems across the United States and how people can get involved to support causes to help kids in need during this time of pandemic.

This is a crazy time. TV productions are shut down. I am sure you were supposed to be filming. Have you had other businesses effected by the outbreak?

Yeah, absolutely. I have Duff’s Cakemix which is a do-it-yourself cake studio with five studios in California. Those are shut down. I have two locations of my bakery that are trying to do something online. I can’t let my employees go. I am going to keep paying them. We have zero income coming in. I don’t know how long I can keep that up.

You are always talking about specific charities that you support on your website, duff.com, and Instagram. Are there any you want to call attention to in this time?

Yes. No Kid Hungry because kids really rely on their schools for meals each day for breakfast and lunch. School is canceled and that is a really difficult situation for the students and parents. No Kid Hungry is running a lot of different programs across the country making sure their kids are able to get food. They need help because it is not cheap. It is a big, big problem right now. It affects millions and millions of kids. If people want to help, they can go to nokidhungry.org and just know that every dollar they donate is ten meals for kids.

The other one would be the Independent Restaurant Coalition. There are about 11 million people in the restaurant industry. It is tough working in restaurants whether you are a dishwasher or line cook or server or owner or chef or manager. It is tough right now. Almost everyone in the restaurant industry lives paycheck to paycheck. There are a lot of people out there really hurting right now. People can go to the Independent Restaurant Coalition to figure out how they can help. The biggest thing people can do right now is get carryout from your local restaurants, get delivery, tip them well, more than you normally would. Get delivery and get it often. Those guys need to work. Restaurants have lost so much income. People ordering out really helps. 

You have been doing baking demos on your Instagram. What has that experience been like and why did you start doing it?

I actually do those all the time, not just during the quarantine. I really enjoy doing them. When you are doing TV filming it is kind of hard sometimes because you are looking at a camera and have to picture the people out there. The more I interact with people, it helps me connect when I am not actually not in front of them. As I am talking on camera, I know the kinds of questions people are going to be asking and so I give that kind of information without them in front of me. Plus, I am a goofy dude and I like to mess around with my fans. It is fun.

I love your Instagram and your wife’s (Johnna) Instagram. Your wedding was gorgeous at LA’s Museum of Natural History. It was super unique.

It was really fun too. We wanted something nice and relaxed. We wanted everyone to have a good time and feel good. We had a petting zoo. We had some silly stuff in there.

For all the non-bakers like myself in the audience, what is the easiest thing you can bake from home?

I think a lot of people don’t have yeast and don’t want to go to the store but people need bread. What would be fun for people is to bake a pita bread because it’s really easy to make. It is an easy dough to make. It is only flour, water, and salt. You need a cookie sheet and an oven. If you don’t have a rolling pin, use a red wine bottle.

All the non-bakers definitely have those ingredients and wine I am sure. Is there a place you would like to take a culinary adventure with travel you haven’t been able to?

Italy is too obvious of a choice but it is where I would want to be right now with the comfort food. I think Bangkok. We loved Thailand. We went there on our honeymoon. We didn’t really get to experience all of Bangkok. Bangkok is wild. Everywhere you go, within ten feet of you someone is cooking something.

What was the first thing you made in the kitchen?

A mess… I don’t know. I remember when I was a kid we would have Beef Fondue night that was really exciting. My Mom would get the fondue pot and put oil in it everyone would get a pile of raw meat and we would cook our own meat. It was the late 70s and early 80s. Fondue night was so fun. I would get so excited. I really learned how to cook. The longer I would leave it in the crispier it would get. When no one was looking I would turn the heat up so I could get the meat super hot on the outside. It would be crispy but inside would be pink.

Do you have a favorite cake you have made?

Honestly my wedding cake. We had three. One was hanging from the ceiling and it was like underwater adventure. There were tons of sea dragons floating around and bubbles. 

I watched the first season of Buddy vs Duff and part of the second season that has aired so far. It seems like Buddy leans towards “go big or go home” every episode. You focus on the details. Do you think size matters this season because he has had some success?

Yeah the judges are really impressed with size this season. That’s cool. We just try to make awesome stuff. I like making the cakes we make. They are never as big but they are usually really clean and really perfect. We try to make things flawless. I find when we try to make cakes too big, they get kind of sloppy. When you get up close to them, they are kind of sloppy. The judges here are TV judges, not cake judges. They love it so big. In a real cake competition, they get up close and check for the cracks and the flaws and in this season the judges aren’t too concerned about it.

You won season 1. Is it hard to defend it this time around and come up with creative ideas?

I don’t see it like that. I enjoy doing this because I like making cakes and hanging out with my friends and creating cool stuff and bringing something into the world that wasn’t there before. I like telling people to check this out. This is dope. When people ask if I am defending my title. No, not at all. I am not a super competitive when it comes to cake. When it comes to cakes, that’s not what it’s about.

What’s your most memorable travel pastry experience?

I was in Hong Kong. I had this like sugar cookie that was stuffed with pork and gravy. It was delicious.

I have photographed you cooking with celebrities and musicians at BottleRock in Napa. More and more festivals are combining music and food. Do you have a dream Rockstar cooking collaboration?

There is a band called Trans-Am. They are really good from the DC area. They are like super technical and play all these crazy keyboards. They would be a lot of fun to play music and cook with. If you want to check out Trans-Am, listen to Surrender to the Night. Listen to that album with headphones. Listen to it nice and loud.

When are we going to see your band on tour?

We do a lot of charity events. When there are smaller food festivals, we will go and play. It is nice for us because instead of going to a festival and cooking, we get to go and play music.

Do you have any memorable moments from BottleRock?

Throwing food at the crowd with Shaun White was pretty epic. I think this year Eric B. & Rakim are going to be there, a rap group from the 80s. I grew up with those guys. I wore those cassettes out. I really hope I get to cook with those guys. That would be amazing. I’m friends with them on Twitter.

I know you and your wife have spent time driving throughout the middle of the US. Are there any hidden gems you found along the way for people to visit?

Top’s Bar-B-Que in Memphis. It is fast food bar-b-que. We found this Tex-Mex joint, El Aguila Real, near Battle Mountain, Nevada. It was super good. There is the Good Pie Café in Pietown, New Mexico. It is really cool because it is down the road from the VLA, the Very Large Array, which is the giant field of radio telescopes that look into deep space. If you go to Baltimore you have to go to Faidley’s Crab Cakes.

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