Jeffrey “Duff” Goldman — best known for his Food Network television shows “Ace of Cakes” and “Kids Baking Championships” — came to Cornell University on Wednesday, where he spoke to students about his life, career and Jewish identity.
Duff, an important figure in the Jewish community, was invited to speak through the Hillel Major Speakers Series. He wanted to talk to Cornell students because growing up, he says the two most important things were education and tzedakah — a Hebrew word that means giving back.
“I like talking to young people because the time the people are my age they’re already ruined,” Goldman said. “Younger people tend to be more enthusiastic, and I am pretty enthusiastic.”
Duff attributed much of his path to the culinary profession to his Jewish upbringing, highlighting his great-grandmother, grandmother and mother for all being great cooks.
“Every Jewish holiday revolves around food, it’s not so much about the religion, it’s about what we’re gonna have for dinner,” Goldman joked to The Sun.
Goldman, however, did not originally intend on one day working in the kitchen. Growing up, Goldman was surrounded by art from his mother, picking up graffiti as a hobby in the process. He says he got his first job at a bagel bakery to pay for his spray paint before being forced to give up the lifestyle.
“I had to give up graffiti — the poor officer and my mom got together and bullied me into abandoning it,” Goldman said.
After abandoning his rebellious past, he attended the University of Maryland, where he majored in history and philosophy before going on to the Culinary Institute of America. He grew to enjoy baking, combining the bold creativity of his once graffiti background to bake innovative creations — including, at one point, a life-sized elephant cake.
At first, he says he would make these daring cakes to be able to fund his dream of being a full-time musician with his band Foie Grock. But instead, he opened his bakery Charm City Cakes, and with the unique cakes he was being commissioned for by local patrons, he started to gain notoriety and was recognized by the Food Network.
Goldman first got involved with the Food Network after competing in baking competitions with Geoffrey Manthorne. Their humor, wit and unconventional style made them fan favorites, leading to the network to feature the duo in their own reality show “Ace of Cakes.”
“When I make a cake, I’ll get to share it with like 100 people, you know get a slice; but when I make a cake on television, I get to share it with three million people,” Goldman said.
But the growing recognition came with a dark side, Goldman said, pointing out that he experienced anti-semitism in school, and even more so with social media. Goldman said that growing up, he used to combat the anti-semitism with his fists, but has since changed.
“When you approach it with a little but of humor and gently teach people … sometimes people listen,” he said.