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Duff Goldman: Sweet Talkin’

Dubbed by the Los Angeles Times “the hardest working man in the cake business,” Baltimore chef Duff Goldman hit celebrity status in 2006 as the star of Food Network’s “docu-soap” Ace of Cakes. For 10 seasons the show followed Goldman and his team at charm city cakes as they sculpted cakes into outrageous edible art (think helicopters, the Taj Mahal and a bust of Marie “let them eat cake” Antoinette). Goldman, 37, talks to WHERE about business, Baltimore and the cake of his dreams.

You trained professionally as an artist and a pastry chef before opening Charm City Cakes. How did you transition into the world of business? I started baking out of my apartment to just pay my bills. I didn’t take any business classes; I don’t have an MBA. You learn the business side of things as you go, and I think that’s really a good education. I remember a phone call with my dad when he asked if I was charging sales tax. I said “no,” and he said, “Uh, you better call the accountant, because you might be in big trouble.” You learn how to run a profitable, sustainable shop just by doing it and by making mistakes. You’re constantly taking risks.

What’s the most important thing you learned from Ace of Cakes? I’ve learned a lot about how to promote, about public relations and especially about how to keep employees happy. I try to take care of those guys, because we really are a family. It’s definitely a business model that won’t work for everybody, but I wish it could. The better the business does, the better everybody else does.

Has your role in the bakery changed since the show’s success? Probably for the last year of Ace of Cakes I don’t think I touched a cake. I was always on the road. Then I realized I actually love decorating cakes. I missed it. Everybody who starts a business does it because they like something and it’s what they’re good at, but eventually the business side takes over. It’s funny; I’m not as good at piping as I used to be!

What would surprise readers about the bakery? There’s a view people have that the prettier a cake is, the worse it tastes. It’s a weird disconnect. People are always amazed that when they taste a cake they think, ‘Holy moley this is really good!’ It’s something that I’ve been dogged about because I was a chef before I was a decorator. If you let the quality of the cake go, then what’s the point of making a cake at all? It doesn’t matter how pretty it is or how crazy or cool-looking it is. You still have to cut it up and eat it.

What are some of your favorite flavors? One of the bakery favorites is pumpkin chocolate chip. We have a ton of flavors, and we’re always trying new ones, but so far no one’s bought the curry banana. I love it, but I think they keep it on the menu just to keep me happy, just for my ego.

Your ultimate cake? I’ve already planned what I want my wedding cake to be. The bottom layer is a giant disk of Chicago-style sausage pizza stacked up. The next layer is a 10-inch cylinder of meatloaf, then a 6-inch cylinder of crispy scrapple. On the top would be a 6-inch layer of spam. Then the whole thing would be iced in mashed potatoes, decorated with roses made out of bacon, and have gravy poured over it like ganache.

What makes Baltimore better than any other city? Other than our football team? It’s a small town. The places where you want to go and hang out are pretty easy to find. There’s plenty of music; there are some great bars downtown and, going up Charles Street to Mount Vernon, amazing restaurants. It’s easy for someone visiting to enjoy Baltimore and have a good time.

What’s the best thing about being Duff Goldman? [In New Orleans] I made friends with some cops at a donut shop, and they let me in a cop car. I got to sit in the passenger seat, yell at people through the PA and work the sirens and the lights. We were pulling people over, getting in their faces with a TV camera and making them eat donuts. It was awesome.