Tastemakers: Duff Goldman on 'Spring Baking Championship' & His Rivalry With Buddy Valastro

Ingela Ratledge
Q&A Food Network

How sweet it is! When it comes to confectionery programming, Food Network's Duff Goldman (Ace of Cakes, Duff Till Dawn, Kids Baking Championship) takes the cake. The classically trained pastry chef draws on his eclectic background — he loves graffiti artistry, motorcycle and car mechanics and rock 'n' roll — to create desserts that defy expectations as well as the laws of gravity.

These days, his gigs put him on both sides of the kitchen counter: He's a returning judge on the new season of Spring Baking Championship, and he defends his cream puff cred in a series of bake-offs against fellow Food Network star Buddy Valastro (Cake Boss) on Buddy vs Duff (Sundays, 9/8c).

Below, Goldman brings us into the mix.

Why 'The Great British Baking Show' Is the Ultimate Cooking Competition

Why 'The Great British Baking Show' Is the Ultimate Cooking Competition

It’s such a relief to see encouraging faces around the famous tent every season.

How did you figure out cakes were your calling?

Duff Goldman: I started getting cooking jobs when I was 14 because I needed money to buy spray paint. I worked at McDonald's, a pizza place, a greasy spoon. Eventually I discovered I was really good at baking. It felt natural, and people liked the things I made. I've been able to mesh it with my love of visual arts. My whole life is like arts-and-crafts day in third grade!  

What's your take on the rivalry between pastry and savory chefs?

I'll say this: If you take two rib eye steaks and give one to a savory chef and one to a pastry chef, you'll get back two really good steaks. But if you give flour, sugar, butter, eggs and chocolate to the same two chefs, you're only gonna get one pan of really good brownies. I'm not saying any pastry chef could be a savory chef, but… [Laughs]

Congrats! You recently got married to writer Johnna Colbry and made five cakes for the reception. Any favorites?

There was a big underwater-themed cake that was suspended from the ceiling, which was my gift to my wife. It was decorated with a bunch of leafy sea dragons, because she's kind of like a leafy sea dragon: gentle and sweet and really unique. Another was made entirely out of meat and mashed potatoes — that was for me and my buddies, obviously!

Before Buddy vs Duff, what kind of history did you have with Valastro?

We'd only met one time before, way back when we were both doing our first-ever Food Network cooking competition. I remember I held the door open for him as he was bringing in a sheeter — this massive piece of equipment that rolls fondant for you — and I was making fun of him. Like, "Why are you bringing a sheeter to a cake competition? Just use a rolling pin!" It's funny, Buddy brought a machine to our show too. It was some weird robot that cooked his pastry cream. There was definitely some good-natured smack talk: "You had to bring along R2-D2? Couldn't beat me on your own!"

Spring Baking ChampionshipSeason Premiere, Monday, March 18, 9/8c, Food Network