This Creative Passion Led Duff Goldman To Launch Charm City Cakes (And It Wasn't Baking) - Exclusive Interview

If you have been paying attention to the food industry or celebrity chefs at all in the past decade or so, you know Duff Goldman. A pastry expert and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, the energetic chef made his television debut on Food Network's "Ace of Cakes," which premiered in 2006 and featured Goldman and his ragtag group of bakers at Charm City Cakes. While it followed a pretty standard baking show format, "Ace of Cakes" stood out from the pack with its focus on artistry paired with an easy-going, punk rock vibe.

After the success of "Ace of Cakes," Goldman went on to host and compete on shows like "Buddy Vs. Duff," "Kids Baking Championship," and "Cake Masters," among others. Recently, we caught up with the chef at his Sweet and Savory Brunch, which was part of the Nassau Paradise Island Wine and Food Fest. Sitting on a sunny patio, surrounded by pools of sawfish and nurse sharks, Goldman gave us an update on how he is healing from his February 2024 hand injury, explained that he's not worried about his daughter growing up in the spotlight, and shared why he started Charm City Cakes in the first place.

Duff's thoughts on fame and family

You had an accident, you hurt your hand. Do you want to give us any updates?

I'm doing pretty good. It's healing up and I can move it. It hurts, but there's nothing I can't do, it's just everything kind of hurts a little bit. I play music, I cook, I build things, I'm a carpenter. I need this. I don't have much upstairs, I need my hands.

So people love your posts about your family on Instagram, your kid is adorable. Do you ever feel like maybe people are overstepping a little bit? Is there a point where you're going to go on private or just stop posting about her?

I don't know.

It's hard to be in the public eye, but it's also your life.

Yeah, I mean, we're not that big. I'm not that famous. So it's not like ... For Beyoncé's kids, I get it, that's crazy. We go to the grocery store like normal people.

People don't stop you all the time to talk to you?

In the grocery store, sometimes people will recognize me and ask, "What do I do with this? Help me pick an avocado." Which is fine, so I'm not ever worried. I think other people are more worried about it than I am. My wife, the same thing. We're just people, you know what I mean? We take her to gymnastics, we don't have a nanny, we don't have a cook. I think people really appreciate it. Especially when I post about it, too, we're just like everyone else trying to figure it out one day at a time.

I think people appreciate the honesty. Also, like I said, she's super cute.

She's cute. A baby walking around Disneyland. Who doesn't love that?

Realistic family life. They can see that you guys are involved, which I think they appreciate.

Yeah. We build a lot of stuff together. Before I left, we built this little barn, and we painted it and made these little animals that go with it. Well, I did most of it. She kind of hangs out and slaps paint.

Charm City Cakes' punk rock start

Charm City Cakes is so unique, because of that artistic aspect. How did that come about?

These were all art students, they all went to MICA — it's a really, really good school. And it wasn't really a strategy, it just sort of happened. I didn't go to art school. I wanted to, but it was really expensive, we didn't have that kind of money. I was a graffiti artist, I did metal sculpture and found art, all kinds of stuff. So when I started the bakery, I was just being myself. I wasn't like, "I'm going to be artistic." I was like, "I'm just going to make cool stuff." So I didn't really understand, I didn't set out to create this very artistic bakery. I just thought "I'm just going to create a bakery."

Then there was a woman who — a girl, she was just 17 — she wanted to intern for me. And I was like, "I don't even have a business license. I don't even have a health department certification. I can't take an intern. We are not official." And she's like, "It doesn't matter, it's art school." So I was like, "All right, we'll give it a shot." She came in and had never touched any of this stuff before — fondant, cake, nothing — and was already amazing just off the bat. So I hired her and was like, "You got any friends?" And then I hired her roommate, and then they hired some more of their friends. So eventually it was basically a bunch of dudes in bands because I was in a band, my sous chef's in a band, everybody's in a band, and then a bunch of art students. And it was just a very fertile, creative place.

Charm City Cakes helps its team achieve their dreams

It is such a cool concept and space. And it does feel very DIY.

We're not an official co-op, but everybody participates, right? So the better the bakery does, everybody makes more money. One, you got a bunch of art students that are actually making a living wage making art, which, for me is amazing. So in that sense, it's really good. But I think the other thing too is that I've really tried to, over the 20 ... actually we just turned 22. March 3rd, we turned 22. Over that time, I've really tried to teach everyone about just entrepreneurship, taking care of their finances. Things that we, as creative people, don't like to think about, because it's boring and gross.

Or there are no finances to take care of.

Right. Yeah, exactly. You're like, "I'm broke. I have $7,000 of credit card debt. What are we doing?" And what's nice is several, many of them, have gone on to go and start their own businesses. Funny, none of them in cake. One of them has a photography business now, one of them does digital 3D tours for real estate agents, creates this software. It's really cool. But people started their own companies now, they're all doing stuff.

Duff puts a lot of trust in the Charm City Team

It's nice to be able to do that and help people do that. It's very hard to do creative things when you're just scraping by.

That was the other one of the reasons the bakery exists was, I literally started it so I could make enough money to pay my rent to be in a band. That was it. We were a post-rock band. So, 15-minute long mathy songs that six people liked. It was definitely not the kind of music that was going to fill stadiums, but that was our thing. I started the bakery so I could play music, my sous chef started working for me so he could play music, my baker, same thing. At the beginning, it was just a bunch of dudes in bands. But then Anna came, and when she started working for me, she was doing her thing at the bakery, and then she was also doing her own art. Everybody that came had their side gig. Some we all did together, some people all had their own projects. One of them did comics, one of them did popups — like dinners. Everybody had their thing. The bakery was so flexible that when somebody had to go and do something, the rest of us could absorb the work. If I needed to go on tour, I knew the place was in good hands. Somebody else had to go, there were enough talented people that they could cover their specialty. And that's a blessing. I mean, when do you get that? I remember working in restaurants and being in a band, and you're just like, "F***, man-"

Who's going to cover your shift?

Yeah, like, "I got a show." Especially when you're a pastry chef, because there isn't somebody to cover your shift.

Pastry chef is such a difficult job. Whenever people tell me the chef also does the dessert, and the desserts are good, I'm like, "This person is absurdly talented."

Respect, yeah.

People really disregard pastry and dessert, it's such an afterthought, but it's so difficult.

Yeah, and you get a lot of restaurants just have Sysco cheesecake. I mean, whatever. That's the double-edged sword of a capitalist economy, right? It is what it is.

Duff's last meal would be a sentimental (and delicious) choice

If you knew that a meal was going to be your last one on Earth, what would it be?

Jeez, I don't know. Probably my mom's Seder. Brisket, gefilte fish, harosets. You know what I mean? One of those meals.

Something comforting that reminds you of the people you love.

Yeah. Plus, my mom makes amazing brisket, so good.

Do you have any brisket tips?

Just don't put sugar on it, you know. People put ketchup all over their brisket, or onion soup mix. Coca-Cola, all this stuff. Coca-Cola is great for carnitas, if you're making carnitas like pork shoulder, pork butt. But yeah, for brisket, salt, pepper, maybe a little onion powder, garlic powder, beef stock, don't need anything else. Just low and slow, nice and simple. Big thick, salty crust on it. Just make it juicy as hell.

Why 'Kids Baking Championship' is so fantastic to work on

Do you have any tips for cooking with kids?

One thing I've noticed with kids, when they don't eat something you want them to eat like vegetables, teach them how to cook it. They'll eat it all day long.

What about "Kids Baking Championship?" You can see how much you're enjoying it, how much the kids are loving it. I like that that has come about because in the U.S. cooking shows can be a bit negative, a bit intense. But "Kids Baking Championship," "Masterchef Junior," it's all so wholesome and amazing to see these kids grow.

I think what happens is chefs naturally revert to being in the kitchen. Because in the kitchen, and it's not this noble pursuit, but there's generally an understanding that you are furthering your craft, and the only way to further a craft is to teach people how to do it. You can be a dick about it, or you can actually try to help people understand the concepts that you're trying to get them to wrap their heads around. I think that with kid shows, you see it with Gordon, with me, we are just like, "Okay, here's your thing. This is what I like about it, this is what you need to work on." And the kids really respond. They're like, "Oh, I didn't realize you had to keep the butter cold. Got it." And then the next time they do it, it's great, because they're little sponges. These kids are amazing. There are kids that are 10 years old and know how to make pâte à choux; I didn't learn to make pâte à choux until I was like 25. I think part of it is they're exceptional kids, but I also think it's just the times that we live in, we have the sum of all human knowledge in our pockets, at our fingertips, anytime we want.

A gift and a curse.

Yeah, I don't know. I feel like we're on the cusp of the new dark age. It is amazing that — here we are, we have so much technology, we have so much information available to us for free at all times, and I feel like we're getting more superstitious. We believe more in magic and spirits now than we used to. I don't know, it's weird.

How the Goldmans celebrate Passover

Passover is coming up. Do you do a traditional meal or do you zhuzh it up?

Well, it's both, because I do all Sephardic cooking. My whole family's Ashkenazi, so we grew up with brisket and matzah balls and everything. With Sephardic, it's like keftedes, little lamb meatballs, lots of sesame, and my haroset has dates, apricots, almonds, and pistachios. Just all those flavors that, I tell you, man, I think it's in my DNA from way back in the way back, right? I'm just like, "This is what I like." Mediterranean flavors for me, they just feel good.

A lot of people don't know about Sephardic food and Sephardic Judaism, I guess because it's just a smaller subset.

I think in America, now a little bit more. Probably, 15, 20 years ago, Jews were European, you know, New York. When you think of American Jews, you think of Katz's deli, stuff like that. I think that now, just with the explosion of great information, and great access to other cultures, we've been able to get all that stuff. You know what I mean? We get all those flavors. Lamb and cinnamon in a pastry. Oh, this is great. Who wouldn't that? Once you've seen the "Technicolor Dream Coat," right, we are, Jews are from everywhere.

The one bake Duff still has trouble mastering

Is there one baked good that you still struggle with making?

Top crust on a pie, I'm not good at crimping dough.

It's difficult to make a pretty pie.

It's not easy to make a delicious pie, but it's easier to make a delicious pie than a beautiful pie.

Do you have any pie tips?

Keep your butter cold, keep it all cold. Definitely replace some of your water with vinegar and vodka. The vodka evaporates much quicker, so you get a crispier crust and you have a better chance of baking it on the bottom.

Do you have feelings about — I prefer to make pie dough with my hands because I can feel the texture of it.

I do it in the food processor.

Is there a key visual that you look out for?

Use frozen butter, buzz it so it looks like really chunky sand almost, and you can see butter pieces, and then add the water by hand. Don't put the water in the food processor, it'll ruin it. But if you do the butter and the flour, cut it in, and then do your water by hand, it's much better.

Watch Duff Goldman on Food Network's Spring Baking Championship. You can also have cakes shipped from Charm City Cakes nationwide.