My obsession with all things Food Network is no joke. Despite the fact that my own culinary skills are, um, limited, I can never get enough of Guy visiting “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” or tire of listening to Alton explain all sorts of scientific stuff behind things that, to me, just plain taste good.
So when my sister told me Duff Goldman, owner of Charm City Cakes in Baltimore and star of Food Network’s “Ace of Cakes,” was coming to speak at the University of Maryland last week, I was on it. Not only was the event at my alma mater (I graduated in 2007), but it was in early evening and, after commuting there for three years, I totally know how to get there! Even with a Garmin, traveling to new places can be a little scary.
We get to College Park, excitedly take our seats and get ready for the show to begin. I was shocked at how many people were there! I mean, Duff is great — and I certainly love me some “Ace Of Cakes.” But I had no idea so many students would be interested in seeing him. The ballroom was filled with people, everyone chatting excitedly and snapping photos before Duff even walked out. Probably a sold-out crew — or close to it.
We find some seats up near the front, stage right, and I immediately set about trying to get a photo of the cake he brought with him — complete with a guitar-playing Testudo topper! I apologize for the blurry image — I was getting jostled by a hundred other people with camera phones trying to get the same shot. But the idea is there! The front had “SEE” written across — an acronym for the university’s student entertainment group, which hosted Duff.
The man of the hour then appeared, looking genuinely taken aback by the size of the crowd and all the hollering going on. He came through a door immediately to Palmer’s left, a sheepish smile on his face. Once he made it to the stage in the center of the room and had three water bottles to get him through the talk, he slipped off the leather jacket he’d been wearing — and revealed his trademark white chef’s coat! Everyone yelled some more.
Duff talked for about an hour and a half, and I have to say — the man is hilarious! He told us about all the adventures leading up to where he is today — his time spent doing graffiti (and being caught) in high school; his love of art and creativity; wanting to be a “serious chef” and attending culinary school; making cornbread and biscuits exclusively at a fancy restaurant; eventually discovering that baking, and cakes, can be an incredible way for him to channel his creativity. Airbrushing appealed to him, especially. We got a glimpse of his life as he first began competing in challenges with the Food Network, eventually winning them over with his unconventional baking style. And there was plenty of Geoff talk in there, too! Mary Alice, another show favorite, was “phoned in” to the event — she’s a Maryland alum, too! Duff put her on speakerphone and she said hi to all of us, bidding goodbye with a resounding “Go Terps!”
All in all, a really fun experience! Despite a little awkwardness during the final question-and-answer session where students were basically trying to network the poor guy to death, I had a great time. Duff seemed totally at ease speaking with everyone, told plenty of anecdotes and came across as a really grounded, fun person. Probably would have been the perfect experience . . . if only I could have gotten a slice of that Terp cake.
I managed to shoot a tiny bit of video from the event! But, like my photos, the quality isn’t so great. Still, you can hear him talking a little bit about one of his early gigs . . . making the aforementioned cornbread and biscuits for a restaurant, and the trouble he got into with a local professor in college. Check it out here!