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September 2007

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007
The AJL Mini Hot List: Duff Goldman (Hot Baker)

This is part of our Mini Hot List in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

No one would have figured that a bald-headed baker would become the Food Network's highest rated, youngest-skewing attraction, least of all Duff Goldman, but the hyper-imaginative cake artist has done just that in his year as the eponymous Ace of Cakes, which is now in its third season. The 32-year-old product of a family of cooks was always at home in his artist mom's kitchen and favored Chef Tell over cartoons. "Growing up in a Jewish household you're surrounded by food, all the time," says Goldman, praising his mother's brisket and charoset as well as her sushi and fondue.

Now he works amid the baking supplies, power tools, and a staff of 15 at his seven-year-old Baltimore custom bakery Charm City Cakes, and "doesn't turn the ovens on for less than $500" per creation, though orders like the massive Super Bowl party assignment can run into five digits.

Featuring such flavors as pumpkin chocolate chip, peanut butter and jelly, and cardamom pistachio, Goldman's wedding, bar mitzvah and birthday cakes have included "really cool stars of David" and "a replica of the Western Wall," which Goldman had visited on a "life-changing" trip to Israel at 14 that awakened him to his Jewishness. "I read my Torah portion on top of Masada," he says.

His elegant, whimsical and outrageous designs tap into an artistic talent that got him into trouble -- and jail -- when as a thrill-seeking youth, he graffiti-painted murals on trains and overpasses before finding a safer outlet in metal sculpture.

A live cooking show with an underground theater and a rule-breaking but buzz-worthy loss at a cake-decorating contest led to Food Network competitions and paved the way for TV stardom, which he insists hasn't changed him. He still plays bass in the instrumental post-rock band Soihadto, drives a beat-up van, and not only does he give his staff two months off, he takes them on a paid vacation "somewhere warm" every February.

Raised Reform and living with a non-Jewish woman, Goldman practices tzedakah, giving back by donating his services to charities, visiting sick kids, or buying his mom a house. "Being a good person," he reflects, "makes me a good Jew."

Goldman, whose nickname Duff arose from his brother's inability to pronounce Jeffrey, says his future ideally includes a book, another trip to Israel, children, and of course, more cake: "I eat at least a slice a day."

-- Text by Gerri Miller / Photo courtesy the Food Network

This is part of our Mini Hot List in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 3:06 PM | Link | |
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