With his offbeat wit and flair for the unusual, Jeffrey Adam “Duff” Goldman has become one of the most popular cake artists in the country. Food Network viewers may know him from his television programs Ace of Cakes and Sugar High. Duff’s resume is diverse; at various points in his career, he has worn the hats of metal sculptor, graffiti artist, alt-rock bassist, pastry chef and, finally, cake decorator. Says Duff, “I was an artist way before I was a pastry chef, and a pastry chef way before I was a cake decorator.” Duff grew up in a Jewish family in the Washington, DC, and Boston areas. Presently, he serves as executive chef of Baltimore-based Charm City Cakes and its newer outpost, Charm City Cakes West in West Hollywood, CA.
Visitors to Charm City Cakes salivate over flavors like Pear Compote and Ginger (white cake with candied ginger, pear compote and Italian buttercream), Peanut Butter Cup (chocolate cake layered with peanut butter and chocolate frosting) and Curry Caramel (yellow cake with spicy curry caramel and Italian buttercream). When asked about the inspiration for this last cake, Duff mentions an epiphany he had at an Indian restaurant in Baltimore: “I was eating at this restaurant called The Ambassador, a place with real Indian chefs. I had some kind of sweet bay scallops with curry – hot, caramelized, really, really sweet. They were like candy that grows in the ocean.” Later, in the kitchen, Duff tried out several combinations including chocolate curry, but nothing tasted quite right. Then, he caught sight of some dulce de leche cake batter. Curry Caramel was born.
One of the staff favorites at Charm City Cakes is the Cardamom and Pistachio flavor. Indian cuisine also provided the inspiration for this cake. “The Indian dessert ladu is a big ball of cooked sugar and milk and all these really good flavors; it’s an interesting pastry you find with pistachios on top. Ever since being introduced to it in college, I’ve been trying to incorporate it into something.” Customer favorites include more traditional flavors like lemon and chocolate, while the pumpkin chocolate-chip is also very popular. Duff also offers a “cake” that consists entirely of giant round brownies. “It’s like 300 pounds!” he exclaims.
Duff’s cakes are extremely striking visually. Drawing from his background in design, he works with a team of trained artists to craft his creations. At the same time, he remains adamant about the importance of flavor. “Our cakes are very artistic, creative and visually striking, but they also have to taste good. The prettier the cake, the more expensive, you better make it worth cutting into. Our cakes are delicious!”
At the same time Duff runs Charm City Cakes, he is in the process of expanding his brand-new, do-it-yourself Cakemix concept. He explains, “At Cakemix, you come in and you tell the guy at the front, I want a 6-inch cake, a 9-inch cake, six cupcakes. We give you the cake and decorations, and our cake decorators help you. They will even show you how to make a rose or cover in fondant.” Cakemix has been attracting celebrity interest; recently, Duff helped singer Randy Jackson’s assistant decorate a birthday cake with musical notes. There are plans to open Cakemix branches all over the world.
In addition to appearing on The Food Network, Duff can be seen on YouTube’s HUNGRY, where he intersperses cake demonstrations with performance art. In one segment, he plays a food prank: “I make some black tempura batter and fry some soft-shell crabs. Then I go out in the street and set up a table. People walking by say, ‘Hey, Food Network guy, can we get a picture?’ ‘Only if you eat this tarantula!’”
Duff will be competing in Bon Appétit Feast Portland’s Sandwich Invitational. An improviser at heart, he has still not decided on the ingredients for his contest entry. Right now, he is leaning towards a breakfast sandwich. “People may not know this, but I’m a master of eggs.” Duff will also be contributing a cake to the Night Market event. “We have been in discussion about designing a cake shaped like some giant piece of food, maybe an oversized shish kebab.” No matter what Duff brings to Bon Appétit Feast Portland, it’s sure to be a tasty – and larger-than-life – surprise.
Kerry Politzer is a freelance writer in Portland.
- Bon Appétit Presents Feast Portland
The city’s most exciting new foodie event, Bon Appétit Presents Feast Portland, touches down this month. Celebrity chefs and television personalities from all over the country will converge here to hold tasting events, give lectures on food and wine, and cook up mouthwatering meals.
Event founders Carrie Welch and Mike Thelin conceived of Bon Appétit Presents Feast Portland as a way to spread the word about Portland’s culinary innovations and unique local ingredients. Modeling the four-day festival on major events like the New York City Wine & Food Festival, Welch and Thelin aim to “make Portland the center of the culinary universe for one weekend each year.” One hundred chefs, including 30 from out of town, will take part in more than 40 events over the course of the festival.
For fun-loving foodies, Welch recommends the Sandwich Invitational, which will be held in Director Park 5:30-8:30 pm, Thursday, Sept. 20. At this event, chefs from local restaurants will square off against out-of-towners in a contest to make the best sandwich. The audience is encouraged to vote in the People’s Choice Award. All sandwiches will be paired with beer from Widmer Brothers Brewing.
At 6:30 pm, Sept. 21, Feast Portland Night Market will celebrate global street food at the Ecotrust Building, 721 NW Ninth Ave. Imbued with the spirit of the great nighttime food markets of Southeast Asia, but celebrating multiple food traditions, the Feast Portland Night Market will embody the sights, sounds, smells and energy of a world culinary journey. Tickets are $125.
The festival has a philanthropic focus as well as a culinary one; the proceeds benefit Share Our Strength and Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon.
Bon Appétit Presents Feast Portland: Sept. 20-23, various locations. More information is available at www.feastportland.com and www.twitter.com/feastpdx.