Hot From The Kettle™: A chat with The Ace of Cakes!

Palisades CEO, Ed Fernandez and Duff Goldman

“In a cake contest or any other aspect of life, it’s really whoever has the most fun that wins.”

That’s what the Ace of Cakes, Duff Goldman, had to say when I asked him what he would be looking for in the cake decorating contest that took place this past Friday at The Four Seasons Diner in Toms River.

As part of the Palisades Drive with a Smile Initiative, Palisades car insurance company recently conducted the first-ever Palisades “Jersey Diner’s Choice Awards.” The Four Seasons Diner was named the overall most popular Jersey diner by those who logged on to to nominate and vote for their favorite New Jersey diners.

In celebration of the victory, Four Seasons hosted an afternoon event on January 21, 2011. Randomly chosen voters who participated in the Jersey Diner’s Choice Awards program were selected for a cake decorating competition to be judged by the enormously talented, motorcycle riding, bass playing, cake decorating guru Duff Goldman.

Unfortunately I was unable to attend the event, but I did have the opportunity to chat with the very affable Chef Duff over the phone.

MK: Do you get to Jersey frequently?

DG: I do actually. I’m in Jersey a lot – not just driving through.

MK: Where do you like to eat when you’re here?

DG: All over the place. I really enjoy the countryside. I ride motorcycles a lot and Jersey’s one of the best states when it’s warm out to ride bikes in. And so just a lot of the diners and the road food you can get in Jersey is just really fantastic. Especially when you’re off the beaten path and you’re really out in the country.

MK: What do you owe your artistic creativity to?

DG: My great grandmother was a baker and a weaver. My grandmother was a photographer and a silver-smith. My mom does stained glass, mosaics and silver work – I was a graffiti artist.

MK: I saw you on a Forum with Anthony Bourdain and Alice Waters.  Do you enjoy participating in panels like that?

DG: It’s always fun just going out and getting to be on a panel like that. People are very surprised, because I don’t really get talk about food science or food politics on the show.  The show is about decorating cakes.  But when you’re at the Connecticut Forum and you're in front of a pretty well-informed audience, I could really pull out a lot of the other stuff that I study and understand. 

When people start hearing me talk about food science and food politics I think they're really surprised because they’re like “you’re that stpid stoner cake dude!” (laugh)

MK: As a celebrity chef, what is your obligation to your fans?

DG: Different celebrity chefs have different obligations to fulfill; mine is not the education and specifics, but harmony and lifestyle. Helping people understand that there is a life that is well examined and is worth living. There is a way to channel your passion and make a living and a career out of doing that, without having it turn into a job.

And one of my jobs is just really to entertain people. What we do at the bakery is make people smile with cakes. Making them smile by lifting them up and not beating anybody down. I think that’s one of the problems with TV nowadays. It’s too much negativity, too much fighting, too much conflict. We all have enough conflict in our lives. There are other cake shows and other kinds of shows on that are just negative and mean – we never wanted to do that. Because, one, there’s already plenty of it, two, we don’t really agree that it’s a healthy way to live. Shows like that are always going to get higher ratings because people just love to watch a train wreck. But people also like to go to an art museum, and that’s where our show comes in.

MK: Is there any competitiveness to be creative at Charm City Cakes?

DG: No. To have a creative business you really have to have absolutely no ego whatsoever. As time goes on I’m becoming more of a business owner and the others are becoming better cake decorators and specialists at what they do. I have walk into a room full of people who are better at what they do than I am. I’m not going to try to hand paint a cake. I can’t paint for shit. I’ve got three people who that are really incredible at it and they’ve been trying to teach me for years. I could build a machine, if they have a cake that needs a motor. But the people I have working for me are the most amazing people I’ve seen. I get a front row seat.

MK: What is the tallest cake you’ve ever made? The heaviest?

DG: We did a life size baby elephant. It was 750 pounds.

MK: What would you be doing if you weren’t making cakes?

DG: I’d probably baking bread, which I love to do. Or I’d own a goat farm. I get lonely sometimes – no, I’m kidding! I like cheese!

* Photo courtesy of Kym Toone