Bake It Like a Man

What do you call a goatee-wearing, bass guitar-playing, power saw-wielding, tattooed guy who spends his days mixing flour and sugar? A baker. But Duff Goldman, head of Baltimore's Charm City Cakes and host of the Food Network's hugely popular "Ace of Cakes" TV show is not your ordinary pastry chef. Instead of flat sheet cakes painted with frosting flowers and cutesy messages, Goldman, 32, uses drills and blowtorches to sculpt fantastical multidimensional creations like a smoking volcano, a three-foot-tall Elvis as well as replicas of Chicago's Wrigley Field and a 1930s Harlem speakeasy. The show's second season, premiering Thursday night, reveals the inner workings of his bakery, where a group of fellow artists and aspiring rock stars raise dessert to precarious new heights. NEWSWEEK's Julie Scelfo spoke with Duff about the show and his passion for pastry. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: How did you get into cakes?

Duff Goldman: My sophomore year in college I went into the nicest restaurant in Baltimore and I was like hey, I want to be a chef. The executive chef looked over my résumé—and it was all pizza places and greasy spoons—and she was like, so basically, you don't know anything. She said: "Tell you what, why don't you come in one day a week and bake cornbread and biscuits for me." So that's what I did.

So cornbread and biscuits launched your career?

Pretty much. After that I went to culinary school, and I already had a background as an artist doing metal sculpture and graffiti. So when we got to the cake-decorating section, it was kind of like the scene in Harry Potter where the lights came on and the angels were singing and it was like, "Ohhhhh!" This is obviously what I should be doing.

You've made some crazy cakes—TV weatherman Al Roker's head as the sun for his birthday party, a muscle car that shot flames. What was your favorite?

I made one for my sous-chef's brother that basically was made to look like the painter Gustav Klimt had made it. I used every technique I had in my repertoire—sculpting, brush-painting with metallic food coloring and creating a mosaic with fondant. So it was really, really cool, four-tiered, very traditionally shaped stacked cake, but the process involved in making it was so involved. It was additive, subtractive, I cut stuff out. It came out so cool, like Klimt's painting "The Kiss."

What's the most complicated cake you ever made?

We did one for the Baltimore Museum of Art that was $12,000. Basically we did 54 individual models of the art museum, one for each table. It took us about two weeks. It had sculpted, scratched-away sugar lions, it had the pediments that go above the columns, it had windows, shrubbery, steps, even the roof was edible.

What are those things made from?

I do a lot with gumpaste. You know the conversation hearts you get on Valentine's Day? Same stuff. It's hard and it's really resilient—you can sand it, drill through it, use it structurally. It will support weight. It's very important in cake-making because cakes just want to fall apart on you. Cakes are so heavy and their actual protein structure is so delicate.

Your show reminds me of the motorcycle shop reality show "American Chopper."

We get stressed out sometimes, but we don't yell. Everything we do has to be at a place at a certain time—we are so deadline driven, so the drama is already built in. Our director never has to say, "Hey, can you guys pretend you're late for this thing." The stress is already there. The pressure is very real, whether or not the cameras are there.

What are some of the tools in your shop?

We have all the normal tools a bakery would have, mixers, spatulas, stainless-steel tables, refrigerators, freezers. And then we also have a whole machine shop. Basically we have a belt sander, a band saw, we have a dremel—it's basically like a dentist's drill. Like a really, really fine drill, for when we do inlaid pieces. We have a sawzall, which looks like a shotgun but has a saw blade on the end of it. We have a mig welder for when we do a metal structure for building a support.

Aren't you also in a band?

There are 14 people in my shop and everyone is in a band. My band is Soihadto. The genre's called post-rock, and it's basically like an instrumental band along the lines of Mogwai or Exposures in the Sky. It's a little like Radiohead without the words.

When do you practice?

We practice every Tuesday. Our studio is beneath the bakery in the basement. One side is a gym, and the other is the studio where we play. It's soundproofed.

So you don't have to worry about the noise breaking up a cake?