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Ace of Cakes, Jack of All Treats

December 24, 2009 By:
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Rock 'n' roll?

Rock 'n' pastry!

"Always!" chuckles Duff Goldman, the "Ace of Cakes" who deals off the top deck of carts with swaggering and sassy confections, which infuse his chef rock status, and as a bass player in the band "soihad to."

Did he? Indeed. "I love rock music," he says.

And pieces of cake? Piece of cake!

If they're in stationary form: The erstwhile graffiti-artist-cum-punker with a pastry tube is not about blowing up confections with ka-boom impact. And yet, he's not above painting, rather than merely decorating a creation.

He's also not above going on tour --whether it be with his band soon or for his book now, Ace of Cakes: Inside the World of Charm City Cakes, a layered look at what has turned this Detroit native -- the meringue man of Motown -- into the Charm City Cakes fondant fave since he started his business in Baltimore nearly a decade ago.

This 35-year-old sweetie pie with a biker's build may be providing the charm that makes his Charm City Cakes quake.

Foodies feed on his creations, and his cream-filled puffs of self-effacing protest that he's no big star -- a disputable fact for anyone who has seen him deliver a delectable dessert on the Food Network's popular "Ace of Cakes."

The ace comes with a pedigree and degrees to boot: A graduate of the University of Maryland -- who later studied at Corcoran College of Art in Washington, D.C., and was a student at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, Calif. -- Goldman was not one to nap on the job, especially when learning while working at the famous French Laundry restaurant, adding a little starch to an already stuffed résumé.

But it was as owner of the new Charm City that this rebel with a cake could blast his way to fame and fun with a cadre of confectioners that include sculptors and architects more familiar at first with flying buttresses than buttercream fillings.

Panache with ganache? All in his gene pool, says the flour child who swims against the tide.

"I learned as a graffiti artist about getting away with breaking rules," he says.

Cornbread rules?

His are culinary incantations of the best kind, which is why his 3-foot buttercream Elvis was a favorite for those who loved 'em tender, loved 'em sweet.

Can you hear me now? Maybe the edible ear cake had a banana in it.

But Goldman really hit a grand slam with the Cubs-cake: a Wrigley Field that melted in the mouth, rather than folded under pressure.

Ace of cakes and Jack of all treats: It all comes from a lineage of love of fingerpainting and finger food, started long ago in the Ukraine, where his great-grandmother was a prominent baker and artist, which proceeded to his Nana, a grandmother with grand visions as an enamelist and painter. And Mom? A much-lauded stained-glass artist.

Strains of his Jewish soul seep through to the artist that he is to the outside world: "My Jewish [heritage] shaped me mostly by adding attitudes I have about life," says the humble and heartily humorous ace of cakes with a full house of hits up his sleeve.

"It's helped give me a good sense of who I am, what I do for a living. I exist to help Jewish moms cook," he says of his existential X-factor that makes book on his buttercream bona fides. "My reason for being is to inspire, to give joy."

No, says this brilliant baker, he's not a rocket scientist, but he has a rocket in his pocket as an artist, with an understanding that his frame of reference is the best in the business. "I'm not a doctor; I don't make public policy," just desserts, he quips.

No, it's not whipping the whipped-cream stuffing out of the competition that gets him stoked. This sweetheart with a sweet tooth gets his sugar highs from making people smile -- "and putting a smile on a person's face is one of the most important things you can do."

As is putting a good face on integrity: It's important that "I have a strong sense of tzedakah," and that "my contributions be anonymous."

No mistaking his distinctive cake creations, however, that say Duff -- a mispronunciation of his real name, Jeffrey, early on by his older brother Willie, who is co-author of Ace of Cakes -- all over them.

(Some 2,000 fans of Goldman recently signed on to his fame -- cramming four regional Kitchen Kapers stores this month for a book-signing.)

And if his talent is laid on thick ... well, so were his bagels. An early job at a sandwich shop made him the ace of agita for the owner. "Each sandwich I'd make would be a Dagwood. I would just add another pound of meat," he recalls.

Is it not appropriate then that Goldman claims his best learning experience was working on Cape Cod in ... Sandwich?

"That's where my heart is," he says of marzipan memories. That's where I decided what I wanted to do."

If only he had known earlier, he could have made his own Bar Mitzvah cake.

"I was 13," he says of the improbability of doing just that. "At that age, I wasn't concerned about making cakes.

"My concern was about making out with girls!" 

 

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