Duff Goldman Talks Spreading The Joy Of Baking - Exclusive Interview

When Duff Goldman is not on television showing off his incredible baking, decorating, and cooking skills, he's doing what he truly loves most — getting messy and having fun in the kitchen while teaching and inspiring young bakers along the way. The Food Network star has been realizing that dream with his do-it-yourself cake decorating studio, Duff's Cakemix. The dessert dreamland is the perfect place to practice your pastry skills, throw a super sweet party, or just have a finger-licking good time.

Now, people around the country will get the chance to get their bake on like the Ace of Cakes. After celebrating 10 years in the Los Angeles area, Duff's Cakemix is gearing up to spread the joy and fondant all over the country and beyond. The company announced plans to open 250 locations around the U.S. and hundreds more worldwide. We caught up with Chef Goldman to discuss the news, his other recent projects, and all things baking.

In our exclusive interview with Tasting Table, Goldman reflected on the joy he gets from Duff's Cakemix and how it feels to see that spread after a decade. He even detailed some of the expert cake tips you can learn inside one of the studios. He also shared about how he's getting excited for fall baking and cooking, showed off his savory side, and more.

10 years of baking joy at Duff's Cakemix

Duff's Cakemix is turning 10 years old this year. You guys announced some big plans for growth earlier this year. Did you imagine that it would become what it has over the last decade?

When I opened it, I was like, "This will be a cool thing to have next to the bakery." We'll have people come in. It's nice. People always want to come and say hi. I was like, "This will be fun. It'll get people in the door. They'll decorate cakes, they'll buy a cake from us, it'll be great." I never thought that it was going to turn into this thing where we're going to have hundreds of stores all over. It's mind-blowing to me, absolutely mind-blowing. I love it.

How often do you make it inside one of the studios?

I was there yesterday.

What's your favorite part about being there?

I love being in the store and sitting down at tables where there's four or five kids and decorating cakes with them. That is the most fun because the kids are like, "Oh, yeah, you're that guy from TV. Anyways, can you hand me the blue? Can you open that for me? Thanks." It's awesome. They just want to decorate cakes. I am second fiddle. I love doing it. I love helping the kids.

But it's a more — I don't know, philosophical — a less visceral enjoyment when I see kids leaving the store. There's this sense of accomplishment that they have where they're like, "I made this, and it's good. It's awesome."

People are coming in like, "I've never decorated cake before. This looks really hard." Then they do it and they're like, "I did this. I made this." I know that feeling, because it's like when I have cookies in the oven and they come out and they're perfect every time. I'm like, "I did it. This is great. I made these awesome cookies." I know that feeling, and seeing it [for] other people, seeing it on their faces, gives me so much joy.

The key to a Duff's Cakemix-inspired birthday cake

Duff Cakemix is a very popular spot for birthdays. What are your top tips for making an amazing birthday cake?

Before you even think about [decorating], it's got to be good. It's got to be good, because if the cake's not good and you get this beautiful cake — it looks like an elephant or whatever — and then you cut it open and it's dry, what was the point? First of all, what's the point of destroying this beautiful work of art that somebody made when it's not even that good? Second of all, it's a cake. The fundamental purpose for a cake existing is to be eaten. They got to be good, right off the bat.

After that, [it's about] making cakes that are personal to people. Putting inside jokes on cakes is always cool because it means something to them. Putting things that they love, their hobbies, their favorite movies and TV shows, the things that define them — that right there always makes it a little bit special.

For one of my favorite birthday cakes, my 40th, the bakery made me a cake that was a giant steak, and it looked like it had the Baltimore Ravens logo burned into it with a brand. It was the manliest, most amazing Baltimore cake ever. I loved it.

Simple tips from Duff Goldman to elevate your home baking

You can make some pretty elaborate and spectacular designs on a cake. For those of us at home, if we want to elevate our basic frosted cake, what is the first thing to do to start?

If you want to take it to the next level, one thing that's really fun that you can do is you can buy gum paste. Most grocery stores even have it. At any craft store, you can get gum paste or fondant, either one. Roll it out with a rolling pin; make it nice and smooth. Cut it out into a circle, let it dry, and then get edible markers.

Piping is a skill. Learning how to write with frosting is something that [has] a short learning curve. But everybody knows how to draw with a marker. That's one of the first things you can do. You can start drawing on a cake.

Then [you can] do some simple piping. I tell people all the time — people are like, "How do these kids get so good on 'Kids Baking Championship'?" They watch these YouTube videos, and there's 10,000 videos of people making pâte à choux on there. Now there's eight-year-olds that know how to make pâte à choux that I didn't learn how to make until I was 30.

It's amazing to me that these kids are like that. [It's] the same thing with cake decorating. Go on YouTube and watch somebody make a teddy bear out of fondant. There's a video of me making a teddy bear [online]. If you know how to make a bear, you could probably figure out how to make a koala or a dog or a cat. Once you get your hands in it, you're like, "Oh, this is not nearly as hard as I thought it was."

What is the most important equipment that home bakers need to have in their kitchen to make their baking better?

A scale. If you're a home baker and you want to do this, say, a couple times a month ... Take all the recipes that you have, even if they're not written in grams — even if they're only written in cups and tablespoons — and next time you're going to make your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, measure out all your ingredients and weigh them ... That way, if that recipe comes out exactly the way you want, it'll come out exactly the same every single time, where when you're scooping, a cup of flour can weigh 6.5 ounces or it can weigh 7.5 ounces. That one-ounce difference is a big difference in the finished texture of a cookie.

The fall baking season can't come fast enough for Duff Goldman

Are you still in summer mode in the kitchen, or are you starting to get excited for fall and fall baking?

I'm excited for fall in March ... I don't know. Summer baking is great. There's fun stuff you could do, but Christmas, Thanksgiving — this is baking season. This is when you really kick it in high gear. There's never a day in the summertime where you're like, "I'm going to make 500 cookies." But there's four or five different events during the wintertime and during the fall that you're like, "All right, I got to bake a whole bunch of cookies." I'm always looking forward to fall.

Are there any unique fall ingredients that you love beyond basic apples or pumpkins?

Cardamom. Almost everything I make has cardamom in it. I put cardamom in my apple pie; I put it in my spice bread; I put it in my gingerbread. I use cardamom a lot. It's such a wonderful, unique flavor. It's almost eucalyptus-y, but it goes so well with ginger and cloves and nutmeg and cinnamon and all the usual suspects.

Would you say that cardamom is just used for fall baking or sweet stuff, or can cardamom fall onto the savory fall baking side too?

It's one of my go-tos for savory — cardamom and also cumin. I go through more cumin than anything else.

Any other favorite fall recipes that you turn to during this season?

I'm from New England, so I make a lot of chowder. I make a really good chowder. My chowder, if you put a spoon in, it'll stand up straight. The way I grew up eating it on Cape Cod, all of my favorite chowders were not the watery, milky kind. They were thick, almost like mashed potatoes — thick, thick chowder.

As someone who makes this a lot in the fall, what is the key to making a good chowder?

You want to make sure you render the bacon. Render it until it gets nice and crisp to get all the fat out, because when you're eating and you get this floppy piece of fatty bacon, that's gross. But when you get a piece of bacon that used to be crispy and now it's chewy and sticks with you, that's the bacon you want. You don't want a floppy piece of bacon that was cooked at one point, but then almost after it's been through the chowder process, it gets uncooked where it gets all floppy again. You don't want to eat floppy bacon. It's not good.

Duff Goldman talks snack time with a toddler

I always love seeing posts about your daughter on Instagram and on social media. What does she love eating these days?

She has been getting into carrots and snap peas and hummus. When she picks up a carrot, she says, "Dip it, dip it." You've got to put the hummus in front of her, and she'll dip it in the hummus. But then she started dipping her strawberries in the hummus, and that was weird. She loves fruit, so she'll try to dip her fruit in there.

Are there any kid-friendly snack hacks you guys are making at home?

She loves Bamba, those little peanut butter puffs, and all the usual suspects — Cheerios, pretzels, Goldfish. She loves Goldfish. I got this big [Ford] F150, and I was pulling Cheerios out of the backseat, and I was like, "I'm a dad." Once your car is full of dry cereal, that's it.

But we love it, man. It's amazing seeing her learn things. The other day, she was playing shopping and then playing making soup. She goes in the pantry and pulls out the anchovies and the sardines and the tomato paste and the soup. It's so cute.

Does she like helping you cook and bake yet?

Yeah. When she was three days old, her mom was sleeping, and funnily enough, I was making chili, so I put her in her car seat and put the car seat on the counter and she hung out with me making chili. Now, everybody in my family — my wife, my in-laws, my parents, my brother, everybody — knows when I'm cooking, stay out of the kitchen because I'll tear your head off. But it's funny because my daughter toddles around and drags the spoons and the bowls around and everything. She's in the kitchen right under my feet, and I'm always smiling. My wife's like, "I can tell that you love her, because you don't let anybody in the kitchen when you're in there."

You spoke with Mashed last year and mentioned that you were very excited to plan your daughter's first tea party. Earlier this year, you were actually able to make that happen for an episode of "Duff: Ace of Taste." How did the tea party go, and what were some of the highlights of the menu?

It was so good. We decorated this tree up where we live in Topanga. We had all these streamers and stuff hanging down. We had tea. I made these tiny little fudge bites. They were in little tiny tart shells, and I put fudge in them. Then we made petit fours and little mini quiches. That was really cute. She was totally into it.

It was super fun. Jet and Ali Tila came too, and they hung out. They brought their daughter Amaya with them. It was really fun.

Duff Goldman on the art of savory baking and his new show Ace of Taste

"Duff: Ace of Taste" is your first big show making savory dishes in addition to dessert. What's that been like for you?

It's funny. I'm a chef — I've been cooking my whole life. I just don't do it a lot on television. It was nice to share with the world the way that I cook, because the way that I cook is the way that I approach cake decorating in that I wasn't a cake decorator. I approach cake decorating sort of obliquely.

I do the same thing with cooking. The way I make chowder, for example, I'm not sure if people use a roux. Some people do; some people don't. But I make a roux, and I make it pretty dark because I like that caramelized flavor in there.

When we think of baking, most of us think of sweets immediately. What are your top tips for savory baking?

That's a good question. With savory baking, there's things like quiches, a lot of breads. I feel like pizza falls in that category. [It's about] understanding your medium. With a lot of these things ... [it's] understanding how flour works.

[When] you make a pizza dough, you make it three days before you're going to actually use it. Let the yeast break down all the starch in that dough so it's smooth on the inside and gets super crispy. But that comes with understanding the way flour works.

Getting a well-laminated crust on a quiche is the same thing. It's understanding how flour works in that particular dough, because mixing a bunch of eggs and cream and cheese together is pretty easy. You mix it all together. Put some salt, pepper, green onions, and whatever you want to do. But making sure you have a beautiful, buttery, crispy, flaky crust — that is what makes a delicious quiche. That's where you separate the wheat from chaff, no pun intended.

There's the idea that when you're baking, it's a science, and everything is so exact, and when you're cooking, you have a little room for error. Where does savory baking fall into that?

I tend to think of baking and cooking a little differently in that I feel like they're two parts of the same continuum. Baking is cooking; it's just slower. When it takes longer, you have more time to think about it.

If you think about it in those terms, the absolutes of, I don't know — "Crème brûlée is quart of cream to seven egg yolks at 400 degrees." Those are rules. "If your rib eye is this thick, it's going to take X amount of time at Y amount of temperature." Those rules, you can mess with them, but then your product changes. I think that's it. One is just slower than the other.

Duff Goldman's future plans include inspiring us all to keep cooking more

You hinted on Twitter earlier this summer that you are thinking about your vague life plans beyond television, and that includes teaching culinary arts at a local high school. What do you think might be next for you?

I'll keep doing television as long as there's television to do. Once TV has run its course, when I think about jobs for retirement, because I'm constantly doing things and making things ... Whenever I do retire, which is hopefully a long way away, I'd have to do something. I'd have to get a job somewhere. Teaching culinary at a high school would be fun.

[It's] not just to inspire anyone to go be professional chefs, but teaching people how to take care of themselves and cook. It's good to know. A lot of people have lost touch with how great cooking is. It's wonderful to do.

I was a philosophy major, so I overthink everything. I get sad sometimes in the grocery store, especially things like Aldi and Trader Joe's. I hate those stores. Not hate them — they make me sad because everything is done. They don't sell [much] produce; they just have a little bit. But when a store doesn't sell produce, it means people are buying the Trader Joe's enchiladas, which are great. They're delicious. I love those things. But they're buying all these snacks and things that have already been done. They're frozen. You put them in the oven, you do your thing.

That's fine. We have Amy's cheddar bakes in our freezer. I'm not advocating for people to not buy frozen food. It's that you got to cook. It's good to cook. It's good to know how to cook. It's good to know what you're eating and where your food is coming from, understanding those things and feeling connected to a world that's bigger than, "I love these enchiladas, they're great."

We were driving home from San Francisco and we stopped in Oxnard. We bought a bunch of strawberries and tomatoes and cucumbers and took them home, and I made this thing. I'm like, "That's great. That's beautiful." If I was going to teach, I'd want to teach people that, hey — cooking is super fun, and it's good. It's good to know how to do.

Check out Duff's Cakemix before it heads to a location near you, and click here to learn more about franchising opportunities.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.