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LHJ: How has your life changed since you've started the show?
Chef Duff: It's been crazy. It's bewildering because I don't really see myself as that. I'm a cook. And all of a sudden, everybody's like, "Hey, it's that guy! That's a famous guy!" And I'm like, "Who's famous? Where?"
LHJ: Has stardom taken you away from working on cakes?
Chef Duff: It actually does cut into my actual time spent with cake. And that really bugs me out a little bit. I love decorating cakes, and that's why I started in the first place -- I love to do it. I've been doing it less because this empire is getting bigger and bigger. I've had a lot more things to deal with and make sure we're all moving in a positive direction. But if I'm out there doing a speaking engagement -- You should see me -- I'll be onstage, 3,000 people [in the audience], and if my phone rings and it's one of my decorators, I'll pick it up. Because, at the end of the day, that's still what I do for a living.
LHJ: Are you surprised by encounters with fans?
Chef Duff: You should see it, man. It's like, military guys, bikers, little kids, grandmas, I mean, everybody -- they just love it. It's so crazy. Like, who would think to watch? The little kids like it because we're all basically overgrown cartoon characters. And the dads like it because there are a lot of cute girls on the show. And the moms like it because there are cakes and weddings, and it's fun. It's the kind of thing that everybody can sit down and watch together.
LHJ: Can people learn to make spectacular cakes at home?
Chef Duff: If I pull out an oxy-acetylene torch, yeah, that's not going to translate to cake decorating in your kitchen. But everything else that we do, it's easy. Well, it's not easy, but it's not scary. It's the kind of thing where it's like, "Oh, cake decorating, I don't know about that stuff." Are you going to be kicking out masterpieces right away? No, but it's the kind of thing where you can get good at it.
LHJ: Who do you look to for inspiration?
Chef Duff: A big one, a huge one is Steve McQueen. Just 'cause of the kind of person he was. I mean he's cool in his movies and all, right? But he was just a bad *$*. This was a guy who really studied his craft. Steve McQueen was selling himself. He was selling himself as an actor, as a talented guy. There's a lot of, I think, parallels there. You know, we're both incredibly handsome. [laughs] But yeah, he's definitely a huge hero of mine. There's so many. Mr. T is also a huge one for me. His attitude of just "What's up?" I love it. I love Mr. T because he doesn't hold back. He's just like, "Look, I'm Mr. T. I'm the most ridiculous thing you've ever seen, and there's nothing you can do about the fact that I'm standing right in front of you."
LHJ: Tell me about your untraditional staff. How do you think this plays a role in the show's popularity?
Chef Duff: I tell you, everybody is a true individual, and they're real artists. They either went to art school or grew up doing something artistic. I didn't go to art school, but I was a graffiti artist and metal sculptor. I've been making art my whole life, and the when I went to culinary school, cakes and art kind of collided, and that's basically what you get.
Anna was my first intern. She came in, and man, she was just great, right off the bat. She was really making this cool stuff, and she was a graphic design major. Then we got Katie Rose, who's an amazing painter. I mean, she can paint just anything, and she's just so meticulous, and just cares so much.
Katherine is what I call my expediter. She's basically my heavy hand in the bakery. When someone needs to get moving along, when someone's kind of lagging behind, she'll jump in there and help them out with whatever.
Geoff was an architectural model builder before he started working here, and you can see that in the way he makes cakes. All of his lines are perfect, clean, 90 degrees. Ben is our engineer. This guy, right now, as we speak, is building a life-size replica of a Ducati motorcycle. And it works -- you turn it on, the wheels spin, it shoots out smoke. Yeah, it's crazy. Lights come on. It's got a guitar amp inside of it.
LHJ: So Ben specializes in the moving parts cake?
Chef Duff: Yeah. I started making those, and he kind of took my idea, and he's taken it 10 levels up. So now I just help him when he's doing stuff. When he's like, "Weld me up, fabricate a metal part that looks like this," I'll make something for him.
LHJ: What's your favorite technique to use on cakes?
Chef Duff: I think, for me, it's really the visualizing. Taking something that's an idea in my head, putting it on paper, and then creating whatever it is that I drew. It's probably the most rewarding. There are a lot of little techniques, like if you have to pipe a large area with a small tip and then you get the little peaks and valleys, you take a little soft paintbrush, and you put a little water on there, and you kind of paint it back down. You know, little things like that.
LHJ: What was your favorite cake?
Chef Duff: We did that big castle for Harry Potter. Unbelievable. Such a fun trip, and such a great payoff. When you've got Harry Potter himself just standing there, marveling at it, you know you've done a good job.
LHJ: What was one of the most challenging cakes?
Chef Duff: It was probably the cake we made for Lost. We made all the stuff in Baltimore. [When] we got to Hawaii, it was so humid, everything melted, and we had to redo everything. We had people like, "Wow, that cake looks pretty simple for what they usually do." And it's like, "Man, we're working out of an army kitchen, and we had to redo everything." So yeah, it would have been so much more amazing if we had planned for the disgusting humidity of Hawaii. But that's all right. Hey, that's what we do. It was still an awesome cake.
LHJ: What's one rule for decorating a cake that you always abide by?
Chef Duff: Just go to town. It's only a cake. Don't be scared.