Airport check-ins can spot Food Network’s “Ace of Cakes” star Duff Goldman coming from a mile away. The chef, whose Charm City Cakes bakeries (Baltimore and Los Angeles) staff includes architects and sculptors, is known for creating giant confections, from a life-sized replica of NASCAR’S Kasey Kahne’s racecar to a six-tiered cake for Obama’s recent inaugural Commander-in-Chief Ball. So what’s always in his carry-on? Why a buffalo, of course.
Carry-on or check-in?
I try to carry-on, but being a chef, I travel with knives all the time -- some are 14 inches long. Security doesn’t take kindly to those.
Strangest thing you’ve had to check in?
A 6-x-6-foot crate packed with a cake created to look like a giant can of condensed milk for an event in Bogotá, Colombia.
What’s something you never fail to pack in your suitcase?
Carl, a little stuffed buffalo that lives in my backpack. I picked him up in a gift shop in the Buffalo (New York) airport when traveling with my band, Soihadto. He goes everywhere with me and I have pictures of him on all my travels.
Window or aisle?
Window. I like to sit cattycorner like a 5-year-old.
Do you bring food with you on the plane?
A dish I sometimes bring is one part rice, one part tuna; seasoned with curry, turmeric, cayenne pepper, chili oil, olive oil, salt and pepper, Lawry’s seasoned salt, Coleman’s mustard, sesame oil and chopped celery. Only problem is, it’s pungent.
What’s your idea of the perfect vacation?
A place where iPhones, iPads and computers don’t work and where you can have a good mix of chillin’ and doin’.
Been on one that’s come close thus far?
I spent a week in Torino, Italy and was able to chill and snowboard.
Ever eaten something you wish you hadn’t?
I was in France at an ex-girlfriend’s mom’s house. She (the mother) made a steak and that was unenjoyable.
What’s the worst vacation you’ve taken?
I had a great vacation that ended terribly. A girlfriend and I had been to the Turks and Caicos, where the beaches are sandy and soft and the water is clear. When it was time to leave, we discovered our room had been broken into and our wallets stolen. We still had our passports, but no credit cards or money. Problem was, rather than flying back to Baltimore, I was headed to Los Angeles to meet my childhood hero. Luckily, the resort gave us some cash for traveling. Then I got to LA, only to find out my hero’s assistant had given him the wrong dates and he was out of the country.
Where’s your favorite destination for practicing your profession?
The UK -- London. I have a great friend, Eric Lanlard, who owns Cake Boy bakery there. He has a teaching kitchen that’s connected to the bakery that he lets us use as a home base, so we don’t have to fly with a whole cake, alleviating 90 percent of our stress. We were just there building a 6-x-6-foot fantasy world cake for the RuneScape video game launch.
What's the most unusual souvenir you’ve ever come back with?
We make a lot of armadillo groom’s cakes and I’d always thought it’d be cool to have a stuffed armadillo. During a road trip, we stopped at the Big Texan (Steak Ranch) in Houston, where I found an albino armadillo in the gift shop that I just had to have. I thought my bakery staff would love it. They were so disgusted. Not only is it this creepy, turtle/rat-looking thing, but it stinks. So it ended up in my band’s practice room in the basement – it smells like boy down there anyway.
Favorite hotel you've ever stayed in?
El Meson del Marques Hotel in Valladolid, Mexico. It’s located in this sleepy little town in the middle of the jungle. The hotel was built in the turn of the century, so there are big, wooden doors that use old school keys versus key cards. The showers have great water pressure, the food is fantastic and there’s a beautiful courtyard right on the beach. Nearby is a cool cenote, where you can do underground cliff diving. The ruins of Chichen Itza, which are amazing, are only 30 minutes away.
Biggest vacation regret?
While in London with friends, we went to Abbey Road. I don’t know why, but I didn’t take “the picture.” It’s a busy street and there were all these people waiting, so I just didn’t do it. I’m such a jackass because that would have been so cool.
The one thing you're willing to splurge on above all else.
As a chef, it’s sort of my duty to eat everything I come into contact with when traveling. Case in point, at the Borough Market in London, I spent $300 on charcuterie and cheese. While there, I wandered into a bar, where I ordered three-dozen oysters on the half shell. When my friends found me they said, “Holy S*!?, how many oysters did you eat?” They weren’t cheap either.
Three songs on your travel playlist?
There’s a Led Zeppelin song to solidify any situation or emotion you’re feeling, so I always have a full catalogue. Other than that, “Labor Days” by Aesop Rock and both “Amnesiac” and “Hail to the Thief” by Radiohead.
Where would you take someone visiting your hometown?
To a Baltimore Ravens game.
You only get one more trip in your lifetime. Where will it be?
I’d buy a one-way ticket to Israel and just stay there. As a teenager, I went with a group from my synagogue and had my Bar Mitzvah in Masada. It was life-changing – I came back with a clarity and sense of scope of my history in the collective timeline. Israel is so beautiful -- you can ski and scuba dive. As for politics, when you’re there, it feels like they’re in the periphery. Jews, Arabs and Christians – they’re all just hanging out eating shawarma together.