Duff Goldman Tells Us The Foods He Loves To Cook For His Family - Exclusive Interview

Ever since he and the crew of his Baltimore cake shop, Charm City Cakes, made their debut on the show "Ace of Cakes" in 2006, Duff Goldman has been a fixture on food TV. Since then, he's gone on to host and judge numerous shows, most recently Food Network's "Spring Baking Championship" and "Kids Baking Championship." 

But Goldman is much more than a pastry chef and television personality. He's also a talented savory cook, an adventurous eater, and a dad to his young daughter, Josephine. Mashed caught up with him for an exclusive interview just before he flew down to The Bahamas to host events at the Nassau Paradise Island Wine & Food Festival. He talked about what he was excited to do at the fest and shared some of the foods he loves cooking and eating with his family. Of course, he gave us a few baking tips too, as well as some helpful suggestions for getting kids involved in the kitchen.

Cooking with kids

You're hosting a couple of Kids in the Kitchen events in Nassau.

I'm really excited about that. I tell you, more and more as I'm going through my career, I'm finding that I just love getting kids excited about food and making their own food and just getting them interested in food because I think a lot of our stuff just comes from who knows where, comes from the drive through. I think it's cool that they learn how to decorate a cupcake, that's great. But beyond that, I love when they start just really understanding what goes into preparing something. Because when you're a kid, it's like, yeah, candy just appears. It's just there. Nobody makes it. It just sort of shows up.

But then once they start seeing it like, "Oh, things are actually made by a person. It's a skill and there's interesting stuff that goes into making a candy cane or making a smash burger or making a chicken nugget," or whatever it is, it gets them really excited about just that there's this whole big wide world out there of all this fun stuff to do and make. When a kid doesn't want to eat something, the best thing to do is just have them make it with you. Once they make it with you, they're like, "Oh man, I want some of that broccoli. I steamed it. I set up the little steam table. I did the whole thing." So I don't know. It's exciting for me.

Do you have any particular ways you like involving kids in the kitchen or kid-friendly recipes that you go for in particular?

It's hard to say because I tend to expect a lot from the kids that I'm teaching because I see these kids on "Kids Baking Championship" and they're just amazing. And kids can handle heat, they can handle knives, as long as you really teach them that these are tools, not toys, I find that there's really not much that adults can do that kids can't. It also depends obviously on how old the kids are, but generally speaking, I try to do things that are a little bit more immediate because when we only have say a half hour, 45 minutes, I try to do something that kids can be successful at relatively quickly. Because once they're successful at it, they're going to want to try other stuff.

Is Josephine old enough to do anything in the kitchen yet?

We do a lot, yeah. She helps me with cookies. She knows that the oven is where cookies come from and she knows that it's hot. She's good at adding salt and stuff to things. She likes tasting the batter. We do a lot of stuff together. She really likes doing stuff with me and sometimes she likes to sit back and watch, which is totally cool because I can see she's absorbing it and she really likes it.

Brunch and shakshuka tips

I saw that you're also hosting a brunch event at the festival. Lots of chefs hate brunch, so I was wondering if you have anything to say to the brunch haters out there.

I think chefs hate brunch because they don't feel like working during brunch. They want to be eating, they want to be hanging out. I'm a big fan of brunch and I like brunch foods. I was a breakfast cook for a long time, and yeah, I like it. I like cooking breakfast-y things. I like eggs. I like sausage, I like all the stuff that you have at brunch. And I was in Israel with my family not that long ago, and we were staying at this hotel and they had a really great brunch and we went down there and this was my first experience with shakshuka and I was like, "What is that?" And I had some, and I was just blown away. I was like, "This is delicious." It's so simple, but I just never thought of it.

So I'm making shakshuka, but I'm going to stew some eggplant. The nice thing about shakshuka is saying shakshuka is like saying salsa, right? There are a thousand different kinds of salsa out there. And the same thing with shakshuka. There's so many different varieties. Some of them are green, some of them are brown, some of them are red.

So you're putting eggplant in the sauce? Are there tomatoes and peppers in there too?

Tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, shallots, eggplant. What else is in there? A little sumac for acidity.

That sounds great.

Yeah, it's going to be delicious. I love eggplant. I don't know, I find eggplant is a lot like coconut where it's pretty polarizing. Some people love eggplant. My wife wants nothing to do with it, and I love eggplant.

Do you think part of it comes down to how it's prepared?

Maybe it could be it. I think probably like chocolate chip cookies, man, there's a lot of bad eggplant out there where it just gets a little slimy when it's a little too wet, then it's not the most pleasant thing. But a good smoky, roasty eggplant that's got a lot of flavor and it still has some of that texture, that's what I love.

There's that brand, Sadaf, it's like a Middle Eastern brand. They make canned olives and giardiniera. It's just all kinds of stuff. Sadaf makes a canned fried eggplant. It's not crispy, obviously. And to me it's more like stewed, very Persian. It's delicious right out of the can. Open up the can and get a fork. It is delicious. One of my favorites.

Do you think shakshuka is a good brunch dish for people to make when they're hosting? What do you like to do to make hosting brunch less stressful?

Well, shakshuka is relatively easy. You make a big vat of something saucy, and then you reduce it down until it's got enough body that you can create some divots in it with the back of a ladle and you crack an egg in there. You just let them slowly poach in the tomatoes and it's a pretty easy dish to make and you can feed a lot of people with it. So I think that that's one of the reasons why it's a good brunch dish. I think also, it's going to be delicious regardless of what people are into. It's great. People love eggs and tomatoes, onions, all that good stuff.

The best coffee and coffee ice cream

How do you like to do your coffee?

So fairly recently, I'd say within the last five years, I discovered for myself cafe de olla. You ever had it?

The Mexican one with —

Yeah, with cinnamon. So there is, not kidding, a gas station right around the corner, let's say about 12 minutes from my house, and they have a little pot just full of cafe de olla. You can go in there and get it. That's my favorite coffee. Hands down. A lot of milk, no sugar. Just that cinnamon makes it so just ... I don't know. Yummy and interesting.

What's your favorite coffee dessert?

All right, so here's the thing about coffee ice cream — I think that hands down the best coffee ice cream on the market is Häagen-Dazs. That is the coffee ice cream that I judge all other coffee ice creams by. Listen, an affogato is beautiful and delicious, right? Who doesn't love that? But it's not something you have all the time. But when you really want a good coffee dessert, just straight up extra super premium Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream, just nothing beats it. It's so delicious when it's cold, but it's also so delicious when it's warmed up and it's just so rich and velvety and just perfect.

What sets the Häagen-Dazs apart from your standard coffee ice cream?

I think one, it's probably the coffee that they're using, but two, I think it's just because it's premium, so it doesn't have a lot of overrun. There's not a lot of air in it. I find that with the coffee one, because it's so rich and it's so sweet and creamy, that, for me, I can really taste coffee better when there's cream and sugar in it. I can taste the notes of the coffee. When coffee's black, it all kind of tastes the same to me.

And I have a weird palate. I have the palate of a five-year-old. I can't drink three different bourbons and tell you what the difference is. It's just such an assault on the senses. And I feel like coffee's pretty similar, where it's a big bold flavor that when there's no cream and no sugar, it's pretty acidic. And so I think that when you calm it down with some cream and some sugar, that's when I can really say, "Oh, I can taste the roast in this and I can taste what kind of bean this is a lot better." And that's just me personally. And I think that's one of the reasons why that ice cream is so good, is because you really get, I think, just a really good authentic coffee experience. It's got those burnt sugar notes.

The best little-known tropical fruits

You're going to be in The Bahamas soon. I associate that place with tropical fruit. Do you have any favorite deep-cut tropical fruit beyond your standard pineapples and coconuts?

That's a good question. Bananas are fascinating. But there are hundreds and hundreds of different kinds of bananas. And when you're going to tropical places, when you go to the markets, you'll see 20 different varieties of bananas. And some of them are purple, and some of them taste like ... There's actually a banana called an ice cream banana, and it tastes like vanilla ice cream. Amazing. But there's these tiny, tiny little bananas. They're like the size of a fingerling potato. And when they're not quite ripe, they're pretty bright, they're pretty acidic, but once they get really mushy, God, they are like candy.

So I think for when your dear readers, when they travel to anywhere tropical, go to a grocery store and just look around and just see what there is there. I feel like in America, we don't really get great guava, but man, when you are where the guava grows, they're really good. Another one that absolutely blew my mind was jackfruit. So usually in the States, when you say jackfruit, you think vegan barbecue. People take the jackfruit and they cook it down and they make it kind of barbecue flavor. But man, I was in Thailand, and when jackfruit is fresh and ripe, it is magical. It is perfumey. It just tastes exotic. A good jackfruit, fresh, you got to sort of rip it apart, man. They're really great.

Why Disney is the best at hospitality

I saw that you recently went down to Disneyland. You were making monkey bread at the food festival over there.

Yeah, so Disney Food & Wine is really nice. I've been doing it for several years now, and you get to go to Disneyland, you cook a bunch of food, everybody comes and hangs out. And really, it's such a celebration every time you go there. And also just as a hospitality professional, just going to Disneyland and just really getting to see how Disney does things. When it comes to hospitality, man, those guys wrote the book. They are so good at customer experience. And I tell you, every time I'm there, I just feel like I learn it just by osmosis, just by being around people who are just so professional and so good at making people feel welcome and happy.

They're a well-oiled machine.

They really are, man. And a lot of times I get culinary students that ask me, "Yeah, I'm about to graduate. What should I do?" And I'm like, "Go try to get a job at Disney because man, you go work at Disney, you're going to learn a lot. You're going to learn how to make a lot of food. You're going to learn how to make a lot of food really well, and you're going to learn how to be a professional chef because that's what they do there." Yeah. Their pastry program is seriously on point.

Monkey bread tips

Did you put any twists on the monkey bread you were making there?

One of the things I like doing is I like putting raisins in my monkey bread. You put some raisins in there, and I like to reconstitute them a little bit, I don't just dump the raisins in the dough. But you reconstitute, just put them in some hot water, let them plump up a little, and then you knead the dough just normal. And then right at the very end, you add the raisins. You don't want to knead it too much, because they're reconstituted, they'll just kind of mush.

Raisins are one of the things I love in there. And also, when I was at Disney, when I was doing the demo, I was using an induction burner. I know how to use them, it's just not what I normally cook on. And so my pan got really hot when I was melting the butter, and so I was just like, "Well, it looks like we're making brown butter butterscotch," and so we just made brown butter butterscotch for the sauce, and it was so good. Everybody's like, "Why does that smell so good?" I'm like, "It's brown butter. It's amazing." Brown butter is one of the most delicious things on the planet.

Is the reason you like to reconstitute the raisins just mostly a textural thing, so they're not so chewy?

A hundred percent. Yeah. So when you bite into a really soft enriched dough like you have in monkey bread, it's really soft and tender. And if you have a raisin just right out of the box that's in there and that it hasn't really soaked up any liquid, it's just a little too leathery. Not that it's leathery, but just in contrast to everything that's around it, it's going to feel leathery in your mouth. When you reconstitute them, the texture of the raisins starts getting a little closer to what the actual bread is, so when you're biting into it, it's not such an interruption.

What are your favorite Disney foods?

Oh, man, my wife got this garlic cheesy pretzel. It's really big on TikTok right now. And man, I had a bite and I was like, "Oh, God, it's so good." It's so buttery and cheesy. It's like the pretzel you get at the mall, but 10 times better. It's so good. Oh, and I had a Dole Whip, too.

Waiting for strawberry season

Spring is around the corner. Are there any seasonal ingredients that come up around this time of year that you're excited to work with?

Spring, yeah, there's good stuff, but I feel like in the springtime here in Southern California, basically all I'm doing is looking forward to strawberry season, which isn't for a couple more months. My daughter eats a pound and a half of strawberries every damn day. She loves strawberries. But when they're not in season, they're expensive, they're not great, and they don't last that long. So we end up throwing away more strawberries than we eat. Then when summer rolls around, and it's strawberry season ...

So we live at the northern edge of LA County, so we're basically the town next to Malibu. And then the town on the other side of Malibu, it's Ventura County. Ventura County is the strawberry capital of the world, and they're amazing. When you're driving up there in the summertime, you can stop on the side of the road, you can buy strawberries that are the size of apples, and they're amazing. They're sweet and juicy and delicious. So yeah, strawberry season is really exciting around here.

Do you cook with them, or do you just prefer to eat them straight up?

Strawberry rhubarb is one of the favorites of the neighborhood. I do a lot of Zoom baking classes and different digital appearances and things. And my neighbors love it because every time I do one, I have a bunch of cakes or a bunch of cookies or a bunch of whatever, and so I'll go around and pass out whatever I have to all the neighbors because I can't eat 60 cookies. But when I do strawberry rhubarb, I find that most of the neighborhood is really jazzed about it. Also, just good old-fashioned strawberry shortcake too, like a good buttermilk biscuit, luscious whipped cream, and fresh strawberries, nothing is better.

Do you macerate the strawberries at all?

Yeah, I do. I like to chop them up usually in spears. You sort of chop them just from the top of the strawberry, but not diced, and then macerate those, and you get that beautiful just red liquid that when it mixes with the whipped cream and it soaks into the biscuit, oh, it's so good.

Putting a Middle Eastern twist on Passover

Do you know if you're going to host a Passover Seder this year?

I am. Yeah. I do it every year. And one of the things that's been really exciting is, now that I'm the head of my family, I get to do whatever I want for the Seder. And the past couple years, I've been doing all Sephardic cuisine.

We are Russian German Austrian Jews. We are Ashkenazi to the core. And I found throughout my life that I am drawn to Middle Eastern flavors. There's something about cinnamon in savory dishes, the dates and all things that make Middle Eastern cuisine what it is, and the specific spices that they use, I just love it. I love sesame. I love all those flavors. And so I started doing a Sephardic Seder, and everybody loves it because it's so different. We grew up with having a brisket, and we have gefilte fish and a couple different things. And it's pretty traditional.

And my mom came over, my stepdad came, my brother, his whole family, everybody came over and I was serving keftedes, and my haroset was dates and sesame and all this delicious stuff, and they're like, "What is going on?" But they loved it, and so I got a lot of requests to keep it up, so I'm going to.

Yeah, it's nice. I don't do gefilte fish, I do these little fried fish cakes. You kind of mince the fish up and then just bind it with a little bit of egg, some seasoning, and then bread it in egg and matzah meal. And then I just fry these little... they're almost like croquettes, kind of.

What kind of seasoning is in there?

Thyme, sumac, sesame, salt, pepper. Yeah. I think there's something else that I'm forgetting.

Do you have a favorite unexpected use for matzah?

I don't think so, but I make my own. I make it fresh, it's really nice. I have a wood-fired oven in my backyard, and so now I make matzah every year. And my niece, funnily enough, loves it, loves my matzah, and it makes me so happy. Fresh matzah is delicious. Put a little salt on it, I put a little everything spice, I put some onion powder. I know it's the bread of affliction, maybe it's not supposed to be delicious, but you know what? It's 2024.

The Nassau Paradise Island Wine & Food Festival runs March 13-17. Catch the new season of Spring Baking Championship now airing on Food Network.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.