April 14, 2014 – Duff Goldman is many things—a pastry genius, graffiti artist, and bass player, among others. After his demo at Pebble Beach Food & Wine 2014, he stuck around to talk about what was different about being here, about being a celebrity chef, and what constitutes “selling out.”
First, the demo: “Everybody’s a 10-year-old,” Goldman said. “If you cook for 10-year-olds, everyone will love what you make.” So, he made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a glass of milk. The “bread” was a store-bought pound cake, buttered and toasted golden brown in a non-stick pan. “I know, I’m the cake guy and the only thing we bought (ready-made) was cake,” joked Goldman. The peanut butter layer was a thin layer of refrigerator peanut butter fudge, while the jelly was a square of raspberry and prosecco gelée. For the milk, he added fresh vanilla beans, a dash of sugar and a pinch of salt, then warmed it on the stove and chilled it in an ice-water bath.
Goldman’s demo was easily one of the most entertaining I’ve seen. First, he announced he needed a written recipe because he had “the memory of a goldfish.” Then there was an epic struggle to pop a recalcitrant cork out of the prosecco bottle. This is a family publication, but let’s just say that the commentary devolved into innuendo that had many in the crowd doubled over with laughter.
The high point of the demo came after Goldman bragged about his mom’s brisket recipe. A fan asked what made it so special, so he called his mom and put her on speaker phone. Her secrets included buying the whole brisket, cooking it for eight hours on low heat, and adding a touch of liquid smoke. “Okay everybody, 1-2-3, bye Mom!” he exhorted the crowd, who happily shouted along. “Isn’t she adorable?” he smiled.
He signed autographs and took time to encourage a young culinary student. First he had to calm her down, though—she was breathless and near tears with excitement. One-on-one, he’s soft-spoken, but no less passionate and animated than he is on stage. After the crowd dispersed, I asked him about PBF&W and he said he wanted to do it because other chefs talked about what a blast it was. “The vibe’s different here; you have to dig a little deeper,” he told me. He explained that because he does a lot of food events, he falls into a routine, “People ask about the superlatives—the biggest cake, the worst disaster, my favorite cake.” He noted that by contrast, PBF&W is known for audiences that want to learn more about food and cooking. “It’s really refreshing when people want the knowledge. It’s an honor, because they’re assuming I’m an expert.”
Goldman’s aware that being a celebrity chef is not without its pitfalls. “I maintain my street cred by making amazing cakes. I take the same joy in cooking that I always have.” He said Wolfgang Puck is a role model of sorts, “He’s got a whole empire, but the guy can still cook. He hasn’t lost his inner soul.” Goldman told me that he has the best-selling cake mix at Target and that’s just fine with him: “It’s mine and I came up with it. If some random person had come up to me and said, ‘Can I put your name on this mix?’ and I said yes—that would be wrong.”
Goldman’s just a little in awe of where his work has brought him, not unlike a kid in a candy store—er, pastry shop. “I could be cooking on a line somewhere, making $8.00 an hour,” he asserted. Somehow, I doubt that—but it was clear that the Ace of Cakes was grateful for his career, his fans, and the weekend at Pebble Beach.
Elaine Hesser grew up in rural Pennsylvania and started cooking at age 6. By age 9, she’d made her first dinner and at midlife, is amazed when high school graduates can’t scramble eggs. After the U.S. Army paid for her B.A., it also moved her to Monterey County, where she served on active duty at Ft. Ord and Ft. Hunter Liggett. She has a wide variety of interests, but is most passionate about faith, writing, and food – and encourages everyone never to stop learning and looking for truth.