Duff Goldman on wedding cakes, gay marriage and creativity

For the past eight seasons on the Food Network’s Ace of Cakes, Duff Goldman has been leading the staff of Charm City Cakes in Baltimore, Md., to create awe-inspiring cake creations. Many people know Goldman to be very chill and laid-back, a nice alternative to cantankerous TV chef Gordon Ramsay. We caught up with Goldman to chat about how he got into the art of cooking, how to find a good baker for your special day, and his favorite cakes.

EQUALLY WED: What’s your background with baking?

DUFF GOLDMAN: I started out as an artist; I was a graffiti artist. I cooked to pay for my paint, and I eventually found that I liked cooking more than any of other academic pursuits. I went to culinary school after undergrad, and my art and cooking combined and sort of took the form of cakes. It’s kind of nice, because I was breaking some stereotypes. In pastry school, my class was probably 95 percent women. For someone like me, you know, a burly, jock.

EW: How many wedding cakes do you do in a year?

DG: We do 15 cakes a week; probably about eight to 10 of them are wedding cakes.

EW: Do you remember your first assignment for a same-sex couple?

DG: The first one we did was a rat on a manhole cover. We don’t care about sexual orientation—it’s not like ‘Oh, yay, we’re making a cake for gay people!’ or ‘Oh. We’re making a cake for gay people.’ We’re just making a cake for people who love each other.

EW: That’s a great attitude.

DG: Not to stereotype, but a lot of same-sex couples have a good sense of style. Right now, and hopefully, this isn’t the case forever, when a same-sex couple is getting married, because they’re already doing something kind of subversive, so they’re like, let’s have something crazy. Not all same-sex couples are like that; some are very traditional when it comes to their cakes. We did a cake at this place called Westminster Hall, which is where Edgar Allan Poe is buried, and these two guys were getting married and they had this cool cake with red and white stripes. The topper was non-traditional; it was the two guys on top of the cake, one guy sitting on the edge and the other guy standing with a hand on his shoulder, staring off into the distance. It was beautiful.

EW: So for the couple who doesn’t want the traditional, three-tiered butter cream cake, what alternatives are available? We know you guys work with fondant a lot.

DG: You can do a cake covered in marzipan. Every cake we do is a fondant cake. If someone were to ask [us, specifically] for a buttercream cake, we’d have to turn them away, as you can get that from anybody.

EW: How would you want a couple to approach you in ordering their cake?

DG: Make sure the cake tastes good. Talk to people; see if they have references.


Photos courtesy of Charm City Cakes

EW: What are some of the latest trends in cake decorating that you’ve noticed?

DG: We’ve seen how creative people can get. People know that there really is no limit to what they want.  That being said, a lot of people go for the slick, classic look, as well as personal touches. We sit and ask them what they like. We also try to fit the cake to the venue. For example, if somebody wants a cake for an event at [a high-class hotel] and wants the cake to be midnight blue with crazy hot pink stripes, which we know doesn’t go with the venue at all, then we kinda step in and say, ‘Why not try this color scheme,’ something that will be more relevant to the surroundings. Martha Stewart also dictates the trends. We get her magazine, it’s like, “OK, we have to learn these techniques, this is what’s going to be popular for the next five months.”

EW: Do you have any memorable bad cakes?

DG: We had this one lady who wanted a turquoise cake with silver painted leaves all over it. It was heinous. We tried to help steer her in another direction, but she insisted on it. We made it, and when we delivered it, she refused delivery. She wouldn’t take the cake that she designed herself, even though I told her not to order it. Her excuse was, “It didn’t match the napkins.”

EW: What’s the coolest wedding cake you’ve ever designed?

DG: My personal favorite is one I did for [sous chef] Geof’s older brother. It was a knockoff of a Gustav Klimt painting. I liked it because it was a cool, unique idea, and it was beautiful. I was still new to the game, and this was more visionary than what I was used to making. I drew it out, and when the cake was done, it was exactly what I envisioned it to be.

EW: Is the top layer of the wedding cake really good after the first year, or is that just a myth?

DG: It’s really not that bad. I made Mary Alice’s wedding cake; she saved the top layer and said it was really good. Most people say it got freezer burn, because they didn’t wrap it up right.