Duff Goldman Speaks Out on Judging, Competitive Strategy and the Impressive Caliber of Bakers on Duff Till Dawn

Duff Goldman delves into what he looks for in a good cake, the importance of strategy in competition and how even he, a veteran baker with years of experience, can learn from an up-and-coming cake artist.
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Photo by: Eddy Chen ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Eddy Chen, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

What makes Duff Till Dawn, premiering Thursday, Jan. 29 at 10:30|9:30c, such a unique competition show is that the judge and mentor is one in the same: Duff Goldman. As viewers got to see in Sunday's sneak peek episode, Duff advises the bakers during competition and even helps them out during the challenge, all while hosting the show. But in the end he puts on his judge's hat and, with two fellow judges, determines who has earned the Golden Whisk by being the best baker to interpret the challenge at hand. But what does it mean to be a judge for Duff?

In Part 2 of our interview with him, Duff delves into what he looks for in a good cake, the importance of strategy in competition and how even he, a veteran baker with years of experience, can learn from an up-and-coming cake artist.

FN Dish: What are some criteria that you look for when you're judging a professional cake?

Duff Goldman: I've seen countless cakes, and I could look at a cake and I can see a little tiny crack somewhere on the cake and know exactly why that happened, where the shortcut was, what led to that. I've really gotten to the point where I can pick a cake apart without ever having to actually touch it. … You can't hide that stuff. … You're looking for the little tiny details that tell you this person knew what they were doing, they have experience, they have really empirical experience, empirical knowledge of why cakes fail as opposed to just reading a book. The other really big thing you look for is a sense of joy. … If people are enjoying what they do, you see it in their work. If people don't enjoy what they do — they could be the best cake decorator in the world — they put that energy into their work, and it's the same thing with chefs.

Do you think competitors should come into battle with a strategy or just go with the flow?

DG: With cake decorating if you don't have a strategy, you've already lost. It's just a fact. And I know it's a fact because whenever I've competed on Food Network, I never had a strategy and I always lost. I think it's still important to come in with a plan — really have an idea. We would see competitors when I competed, they had their entire eight hours broken down in five-minute increments. And they knew exactly what they were doing. Those were the people that won.

During the competition, have you seen anything that you've been really impressed with?

DG: There was this one guy. … He watched a lot of Ace of Cakes when he was in school and he was like, "I want to do that when I grow up." And he did. He opened up his own shop. He knows how much I loved rolled fondant — I put fondant on almost every cake that we make. He was like, "Just to show you, like you're a pioneer in fondant, I'm going to show you what I do with buttercream." I'm like: "Dude, don't do it. Don't make a statement, just do your best work." He's like, "I do my best work in buttercream." This guy pulls out spatulas I've never seen. He had buttercream tools I've never even heard of, and he starts making this cake, this crazy sculpture, and I was absolutely floored, like, I was schooled. … I was just so impressed that this guy was a lot like me, just didn't listen to the naysayers, including me, and did his own thing and succeeded at it — and was really good at it.

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