Duff Goldman

“My confidence comes from the fact that I’m very comfortable with being nervous,” Duff Goldman says. “I’m very comfortable with my fear, because my fear comes from a very real place. It comes from a place that will make me perform above and beyond what I think I’m capable of doing.” (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun / January 5, 2011)

Duff Goldman has just baked a cake of Baltimore's Washington Monument in Mount Vernon. And it looks just like the city's most famous landmark — right up to the statue of the nation's first president that stands atop its tower and down to the fine black piping that mimics the wrought-iron fence at its base.

Only with Goldman, it's never enough, is it?

Just two hours before he's supposed to deliver the cake and emcee the annual holiday monument-lighting ceremony alongside Gov. Martin O'Malley, the rock 'n' roll chef decides that what the cake really needs are fireworks inside its tower — real fireworks that explode and keep on exploding out of the cake for several minutes.

"It would be really cool if we could blow it up," Goldman says with his trademark TV bravado.

"Yeah, it's all fun and games until the governor gets his eye blown out," Mary Alice Fallon Yeskey, the office manager and resident adult at Charm City Cakes, counters.

But Duff prevails.

The cake makes it to Mount Vernon on time. The tower is packed with fireworks, and they start exploding out of the top of the cake right on cue as thousands of Baltimore residents standing in the park at the base of the real monument applaud.

That's TV Duff as seen in an early episode from his Food Network show, "Ace of Cakes," a weekly TV series featuring the daring, super-confident Goldman and his Baltimore cake-making collective. The series, which is seen by 2.5 million viewers each week, is ending its run next month.

Now, the real 36-year-old Duff Goldman is testing the limits again. After a decade of much success making elaborate cakes in his Baltimore apartment and then in a converted church on Remington Avenue, Goldman is moving to Los Angeles in March to open a California version of Charm City Cakes. And the entrepreneur who says he has never taken out a loan through all the years of building Charm City into a multimillion-dollar empire of TV shows, books, recipes, department store appearances and a food product line, says he might show his first loss ever next year.

Everyone knows TV Duff, the "bad boy of baking," and all the narratives of his former and parallel lives as graffiti artist, bassist in an indie band and lover of all things mechanical and fast.

But there is also a more thoughtful, less … well, adolescent … Duff Goldman behind that character — one that even the most ardent TV fans over the years might not know. It took a few days of chasing after him and his hyped-up persona to track it down. But late on a Friday afternoon, after all the cameras were gone and maybe Goldman was just too worn out to still be "on," there was a glimpse of a real person who was starting a new and scary chapter of his life.

"It's a huge change I'm undertaking," Goldman said, leaning way back in his chair and slowing down his delivery long enough for the first time all day to take a real breath. "I would be stupid if I wasn't nervous. I'd be stupid if I wasn't scared. But being nervous and scared are great motivators. There's nothing like painting yourself into a corner to motivate yourself to perform. It's huge. It's a really big thing to be doing, especially because I don't really know anything about business. I know what I've been able to accomplish so far. But I don't know if I can do it again. This is kind of a big test for me. It's like, 'Can you really do this?' Can I really believe the hype? Do I really know what I'm talking about? I don't know. Maybe."

'The same goofball'

Goldman likes to portray himself as a perpetual adolescent banging away on his bass in the teenage boy's fantasy of a band room he has in the basement of Charm City Cakes.

"I feel like I'm 18, with the maturity level of like a 14-year-old," he says when asked his age. "I'm still the same goofball; I'm still in college, as far as I'm concerned."

Goldman's love of motorcycles, contact sports, hot cars and the bass guitar he plays in the experimental indie band soihadto are all part of that. So are the fireworks and car engines that he puts inside some of his more outrageous cakes.

A sense of how much he sees himself in this goofball-college-kid way surfaces when he's asked whether being "management" of an enterprise as large as Charm City Cakes doesn't sometimes put him at odds with the younger members of the team.

"I'm not management," he says, laughing at the suggestion. "I'm like their dumb-jock older brother or something."

But, of course, he is management, and as you press him for specifics about his philosophy of business and how it relates to the move to California, some decidedly conservative, old-school attitudes toward running a business start to surface. And they seem at odds with the reckless jock and fearless avant-garde cake-artist-with-a-blowtorch images he cultivates.