Courtesy of Food Network Magazine
1. His real name is Jeffrey.
Duff was born Jeffrey Adam Goldman-his older brother, Willie, is responsible for his nickname, Duffy. "As hard as Willie tried to pronounce 'Jeffrey,' it kept coming out wrong," Duff says. The brothers are still super close: Willie, a Los Angeles television executive, coproduces Duff's show.
2. He once worked at McDonald's.
Before he went on to study at the Culinary Institute of America (that's Duff on graduation day, below) and bake cakes for movie premieres and big-time events, Duff cooked at fast-food joints and greasy spoons in high school. "I think serendipity did the job in the end, but the beginning of my culinary career simply involved working my a-- off in a variety of jobs," he says.
3. He used to be a graffiti artist.
In high school, Duff honed his artistic skills through graffiti-or "mural art," as he called it around his mom. "I walked a fine line between the law and the needs of my creatively fertile mind," he says. Eventually, his mom enrolled him part-time at Corcoran College of Art + Design in Washington, D.C., at age 14, to keep him out of trouble.
4. He decorated his first cake on his living room coffee table.
Duff opened his cake business in his Baltimore apartment after leaving a personal chef job. "I called my dad, business guru extraordinaire, and asked, 'Hey, Dad, how do I start a cake business?' And he says, 'Get some business cards, get a website and sell some cakes!' Astounding, basic advice, but I followed it...I baked [cakes] in my rickety joke of a home oven and delivered [them] in my hatchback VW."
5. The original title of his show wasn't G-rated.
Ace of Cakes initially came to producers as a sizzle reel, or demo tape, called ____ You Let's Bake. Before settling on a more family-friendly title for TV, the show's producers considered the names Bake It to the Limit; Charm City; and Doughboy.
6. He makes his cakes in reverse.
Because cake goes stale quickly, Charm City Cakes staffers plan the decorations and make every last topping before they even turn the ovens on. "Think back to how many weddings you attended where the wedding cake was beautiful but tasted like crap," Duff says. "There are a few reasons for this, but the main problem is that whoever made the cake didn't make flavor and freshness a priority. Maybe that cake was sitting in a freezer for a month, or worse, sitting in the fridge for a week."
7. His cakes come in wacky flavors.
Duff is a firm believer that intricate cakes also have to taste great, so his cakes come in 49 flavors, like peanut butter and jelly; bananas Foster; blueberry muffin; s'mores; and pumpkin chocolate chip. "Do you really think Charm City Cakes would be in the bakery business for longer than a week if our cakes didn't actually taste good?" he says.
8. His crew shoots 120 hours of footage for each 22-minute episode.
The Ace of Cakes camera crew shoots at Charm City Cakes five or six days a week, nine months a year. On taping days, bakery staffers wear tiny wireless microphones, and two audio operators can hear everything they say. "At this point, I could write a whole book called The Guide for Normal People Who End Up on Television," Duff says.
9. He also works nights-in a rock band.
Somehow, Duff finds time to play bass in an indie-rock band named "...soihadto..." (say it slowly and it's "so I had to"). "I started Charm City Cakes because I'm in a band and I knew that was the only way I was going to get any time off-if I was the boss," he says.
10. He's not originally from Baltimore.
Duff is so proud of his hometown that it's hard to believe he has lived anywhere else. But he was born in Detroit and grew up in Missouri, Virginia and Massachusetts, before going to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He went to culinary school in Napa Valley, CA, and worked in Colorado before returning to Baltimore. "I think the reason we've done so well here is that Baltimore loves different stuff," he says. "A bakery like mine wouldn't last in Washington, D.C., where most people have a very clear idea of what a cake should look like."
Before he was the Ace?
Duff Goldman's much-abbreviated life story:
Growing up, Duff is into doodling, drawing and shadowing his mom in the kitchen.
Duff graduates from Sandwich High School in Sandwich, MA. "My God, were they happy to have me out of there-the vice principal just beamed the whole day," he says.
At the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Duff meets Mary Alice Yeskey, his now-bakery manager, when he fishes her pearls out of a dorm sink.
Duff meets his sous chef, Geof Manthorne, through mutual friends. "I'm the crazy, over-optimistic one," Duff says. "Geof keeps me sane."
Three years after starting his bakery in his apartment, Duff purchases an old church to house Charm City Cakes.
Before Ace of Cakes premieres, Duff promotes the show on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. "I had to tell a joke," he says. "But it's a big blur now."
Ace of Cakes marks its seventh season, featuring cakes for the New York Yankees, NASA and the premiere of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Book of Cakes, a special about the making of Charm City Cakes, airs on October 22 at 10 p.m.
Duff's tell-all, Ace of Cakes: Inside the World of Charm City Cakes ($35; William Morrow Cooksbooks), is in bookstores now.
Photo from the book Ace of Cakes: Inside the World of Charm City Cakes, by Duff Goldman and Willie Goldman. Published on October 20, 2009, by William Morrow Cookbooks, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.