When we learned that one of the biggest names in baking lives in Baltimore, we jumped at the opportunity to interview him. Chef Duff Goldman, owner of Charm City Cakes and Charm City Cakes West, graduated with a degree in philosophy and history from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Instead of pursuing his studies in philosophy and history, he went on to Corcoran College of Art and Design in D.C., and later the Culinary Institute of America in California.
In 2002, Duff decided to open up Charm City Cakes. Just a few years later, the reality show Ace of Cakes, which depicted Duff and his team, aired on the Food Network. Since then, Duff has starred in many other TV shows such as Duff till Dawn, Holiday Baking Championship, Cakemasters, and Spring Baking Championship, just to name a few.
Duff is an incredibly busy man juggling his responsibilities as an executive baker, TV personality, business owner, and author. So, we were very excited when Duff sat down to talk to us.
Find out everything from Duff’s favorite snack to what it’s like to be on TV in this Q&A.
Spoon University: What is your favorite snack?
Duff Goldman: Soft-boiled eggs with hot sauce on them. I work in a bakery so there are always eggs lying around.
SU: Which do you like better, cake or pie?
Duff: Definitely depends on the situation. If it’s Thanksgiving, I want pecan pie, but if it’s a birthday, I want cake and ice cream.
SU: I know you use some heavy-duty tools, like blowtorches, when making your cakes. What is your favorite kitchen appliance?
Duff: Maybe my rolling pin… It doesn’t have handles on it & it’s just a rod, but you can use it for a lot of stuff. You can use it for crushing spices, rolling stuff out, and laying things down. It’s a big, heavy, fat piece of wood. Plus if anyone acts up, you always have a weapon in your hand!
SU: What is your favorite restaurant?
Duff: You can’t really ask a chef that cause you’ll offend all of their friends.
SU: How about your favorite Baltimore restaurant instead?
Duff: The Ambassador Dining Room in Roland Park.
SU: Did you always want to be a chef when you were growing up?
Duff: Actually, when I was in elementary school, I knew that I wanted to be an artist. I always knew I wanted to be creative.
SU: I heard that you used to be a graffiti artist. Can you tell me about that?
Duff: I mainly did murals. When my mom found out I was a graffiti artist, she completely freaked out.There’s this really cool overpass. It’s a 20 foot wide bridge, and if you go underneath it, there’s a 3 foot concrete step in front of this wall. After I took her to this place she was completely torn. She wanted to be mad because graffiti is illegal, but she was also blown away and proud because she’s an artist herself.
SU: Is there someone who inspired you?
Duff: Honestly, all kinds of people…My mom, Cindy Wolfe, a lot of people, but if I had to choose one though, I would probably choose Jacques Torres.
SU: I understand that you worked for Baltimore chef Cindy Wolf while you were attending University of Maryland, Baltimore County. What was that like?
Duff: Great! Cindy is wonderful… she’s a beast. I love listening to her talk about ingredients. It’s so inspiring. If I didn’t work under her, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.
SU: What was your college dining experience like?
Duff: Absolutely horrible. They had a giant can of Old Bay I would put on everything because the food was awful. I got into it once with the dining manager! I told them the food was inedible and so damn disgusting.
SU: Did you really start Charm City Cakes in your apartment?
Duff: My apartment was in Mount Vernon. It had 3 flights of stairs & of course there was no elevator. I loved it though.
SU: What was the most challenging part of starting your own business?
Duff: Honestly, learning all of the business stuff. Accounting, taxes, paperwork, licenses, the administrative stuff… there was just so much. I was doing everything myself and it is definitely not easy. It’s a lot of tedious busy work, but it’s worth it in the end.
SU: Charm City Cakes is known for its highly creative cakes. Have you had any strange orders?
Duff: Yes, lots! Usually doctor’s requests are just really weird. They have a sick sense of humor.
SU: Do you have a favorite cake that you have made?
Duff: We made a life-size R2D2 for George Lucas on site. It was honestly a dream come true.
SU: You now have two locations: Charm City Cakes in Baltimore and Charm City Cakes West in Los Angeles. How do you run two successful, demanding bakeries at once?
Duff: You have to have an awesome team, which I do. There are great people running both bakeries.
SU: You have appeared on a number of TV shows and of course starred in Ace of Cakes. What do you enjoy most about being on TV?
Duff: There’s so much awesome stuff. Being able to bring something fun, creative, and positive to television where most of it’s negative and destructive. TV has a lot of bad stuff. It’s important to balance it out.
How many crime shows, police shows, and violence can you watch? It’s nice to give people the option to watch something happier, like watching people make cakes.
SU: You have a new season of The Holiday Baking Championship coming out soon. Can you tell me a little about it and what is it like judging a baking competition?
Duff: It’s fun! The other judges are really fun & the contestants are great. I bring my textbooks with me though. Sometimes the contestants make something & I won’t know what it is. I want to make sure I judge it correctly.
SU: What is the best thing you have ever tasted during one the food competitions you have judged on TV?
During the Spring Baking Championship, Daminano Carrara made gelato. It’s the best gelato I’ve ever had. Well, that and this gelato I had in Italy. They’re my top two gelato experiences.
SU: Your new book, Duff Bakes, is coming out soon. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Duff: The book is really funny. I always have people come up to me in the airport and tell me that they would love to do what I do, but don’t know how to bake.
So, this book is for people who think baking is too rigid. It’s for people who want to attempt it. It’s a book that everyone can understand. I’m just a man, and if I can bake, then anyone can do it.
SU: I’m sure all of the recipes in your book are favorites, but is there one that stands out for you?
Duff: The focaccia
SU: What is the hardest part about your job?
Duff: Probably trying to not eat all of the treats so I don’t gain 400 pounds.
SU: If you could give any advice to your college self, what would it be?
Duff: I think it would be to get the parents’ names and addresses of all of my friends I make in college, so 5 years later, after everyone scatters, you can still keep in touch.
Wait, now I’m dating myself. Take more classes! More specifically, take more business classes they may not seem important now, but they’ll be helpful later down the road.