A life-size working R2-D2, a 7-foot Incredible Hulk, a massive Crayola box and a race car are just a few of the many breathtaking cakes Duff Goldman has created throughout his successful career as a celebrity pastry chef.
And life just got sweeter for Goldman, because not only is he the star of two new shows, but one involves working with his childhood crush.
New for 2015, the “Aces of Cakes” personality launched “Kids Baking Championship,” where young bakers whip up delectable desserts for a chance to win a $10,000 grand prize. He also debuted “Duff Till Dawn,” where he tests the skills of aspiring cake decorators who must impress Duff's rotating guests in hopes of winning the coveted Golden Whisk.
If that’s not enough, Goldman still serves as the owner of Baltimore-based Charm City Cakes, celebrated as the go-to spot for edible and downright delish works of art.
Below, Goldman chats with FOX News Magazine about his dual series on the Food Network, how parents can get their kids to show off their own culinary skills, as well as the one cake request he almost said no to.
FNM: Two contestants from ‘Kids Baking Championship’ were sent home on the first episode. Is it tough to eliminate children?
DG: It’s like shoving a knife into my chest (laughs). So difficult! I would tell my co-host Valerie (Bertinelli), ‘Listen, you gotta do this.’ And she would go ‘No way man, you’re doing it! You’re the big fancy chef. You gotta send them home!’ And my reaction is always ‘Nooooo!’ (laughs). Yeah, I’m still feeling it from the first episode and it's torture.
But here’s the thing. I’ve been a judge in a lot of cooking competitions, and it’s pretty easy to send people home because, you know, things happen. I’ve been sent home on every competition I’ve ever done so I can relate. But as hard as it was to send these kids home, I’ve never seen anybody take it so well. The kids were having so much fun. They were so happy to be there and they had so little ego. You would send them home and they would give high fives to everyone, hugs, big smiles, and waves. They were having a blast. They’ve handled it better than anyone I’ve ever seen. Adults are usually like, ‘This judge is stupid, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.’ Yeah, that’s why I’m a judge, because I don’t know what I’m talking about (laughs).
FNM: What was it like working with Valerie Bertinelli?
DG: Listen, I think I do really well as a chef on TV because I’m not good at it, if that makes any sense. I wouldn’t have done as good a job this time around without Valerie because she’s such a pro. She’s so good at being on TV, quickly assessing a situation, having the right tone, and just being herself. Valerie would very gently prompt me to say the things audiences were looking for. She was very good at pulling information out of me. For example, I’m a chef and I could be talking about blanching, but not everyone knows what blanching is. Valerie was very good at saying, ‘That’s interesting, but how does it work?’ We’ve known each other for a long time and the chemistry is just hilarious. It’s actually very funny. When I was a kid, like 5-6 years old, I had the biggest crush on Valerie Bertinelli. And you know, your childhood crushes never really go away (laughs). My 5-year-old self just kept freaking out.
FNM: What have been some of the surprising things you’ve discovered as a pastry chef watching these young contestants?
DG: How sophisticated they are. I can’t imagine baking at their level when I was in culinary school. It’s mind-blogging how good their techniques are at that age. It was like, are you kidding me? I didn’t learn some of those skills until I entered my third job out of culinary school! You see adults in the kitchen running around and freaking out. You see these kids running around and freaking out, yes, but they also had a plan.
FNM: Do you have any tips for parents who might want to begin baking with their kids?
DG: I don’t have any kids myself, but I was a personal chef to a family with four kids. They wouldn’t eat anything unless it was pizza, spaghetti or hot dogs. It was impossible to get anything in them. Their mom and I would wrack our brains figuring out what they should have. Kids will see words, like 'turnip,’ and not want anything to do with that. So it really comes down to getting creative with food. One thing I’ve discovered is that if you get the kids in the kitchen, they will love helping you. Everybody’s favorite time at that age in school is arts and crafts, because you get to hang out, make stuff, and it’s just a fun, freeing time that’s different from anything else. And that’s what cooking is, a craft.
When you get the kids in the kitchen, they’ll have a good time making things, and they’ll eat it. I showed these kids how to roast butternut squash and stuffed mushrooms. I would ask them what they wanted to stuff the mushrooms with. Most of the time, if it worked, we did it. We were creating these fun, crazy dishes, and they were eating them, too. All it took was to let them have a hand at making it. They would see all the raw ingredients and discover there’s nothing weird going on. I would tell these kids how delicious their meals were and they would go, ‘Of course it is! I made it.’ That’s the best thing parents can do. Let the kids come in the kitchen and start delegating. And don’t worry about kids playing with knives. You just gotta teach them how to use a knife properly and have respect for the tool in the kitchen. I was in second grade when I chopped my pinky off, but we got it back on (laughs).
FNM: On ‘Duff Till Dawn’ your judging panel includes a lot of rotating chefs. Who would you say is the toughest, most ruthless judge on the panel?
DG: Me (laughs). Cake decorators are funny creators in comparison to bakers and chefs in general. I’ve made every single mistake there is to make. When I see something, I’m not afraid to say ‘Yo, that’s wrong. You know better than that.’ And before every show, I always do my homework on all the contestants, so I know what they’re good at. In other words, you can’t bull**** a bull****ter. When I made a mistake, I always remember never to make that mistake again because that would mean getting a call from the bride’s father the next day. I have first-hand knowledge of everything that can go wrong with cakes. It doesn’t mean I’m better than you. It just means I know what I’m looking at.
FNM: Have you ever received a cake request that was so ridiculous that you absolutely had to turn down the job?
DG: No. It almost happened once. Someone asked for a life-size elephant. I was scared (laughs). But we took the job and it’s one of my proudest moments with my staff. And we had to drive this from Baltimore to Arizona. That’s probably the closest we ever came to saying no.
But we don’t do things that are downright distasteful. For example, we don’t do X-rated cakes for bachelor/bachelorette parties because the people who work for me are very good artists and I don’t want to cheapen their skills with things like that. There are other people who can do that. I personally don’t think X-rated cakes are offensive, I just don’t think it fits with our business. If anyone ever asks for that, we usually just go with a ‘Sorry, we’re just too busy to make something like that. You might want to ask someone else.’
But for the most part, we don’t really turn down requests just because it seems too difficult. We love that stuff. Honestly, that’s how we stayed in business when I started, because I didn’t say no to anything. I started baking so I can make enough money to be in a band, and under those terms, you say yes to anything. I don’t care what it was. If you were gonna pay for it, we would make that cake for you.