Thursday, March 6
As the self-elected president of the Mary Alice fan club, it’s always a treat to sit down with the club’s honoree. Plus, I was thrilled to finally meet Duff and Geof, who are just as funny and likable in person as they are on TV.
After four seasons on the air one might think the gang from Baltimore’s Charm City Cakes would be tired of the major attention (and its subsequent pressure) placed upon them and the show, but after speaking with these three I see a group truly hitting its stride—brought together even closer with their successful show and promising side projects.
(That was my official-sounding intro. Here’s where I mention the fact that as we walked into the private green room/makeup area to do the interview, Ellie Krieger was sitting all done up on one of the couches. She is really beautiful in person, and even though I had already spoken to her the day before and saw her at the Amex party, I was still kinda awestruck. I wasn’t able to be awestruck for long—we basically kicked her off the couch so we could do the interview. Sorry Ellie!)
I began the interview on a bit of a sad note: In Canada, Ace of Cakes has only been running Monday mornings at 4:30 a.m. A few frenzied Canadians have emailed me asking me what was up. Not being sure myself, I asked them. What that aboot, eh?
Duff let out one his loud, charismatic laughs and just said, “Well, it’s not exactly a family show.” Mary Alice has since followed up with Food Network Canada, and we hope to have it back on the air at some more normal hours soon!
Not a family show? Perhaps. Ace of Cakes is the first show on Food Network to have bleeped out words. Any favorite bleeped moments?
Mary Alice: I know in particular when Elena did the Beaver cake… there was actually a lot more beaver talk. The original cut had to be censored down a little bit.
Duff: I think I said the word beaver 7,000 times that week all with a straight face. I was like: all right, if I say it this many times at least one or two of them will get in there.
Duff: We have a book coming out in the fall. It’s pretty exciting. It’s a book about us and the cakes and the show and where we were and where we’re going.
Will it detail the craft of cakemaking? (Something some viewers wish there was more of on the show.)
Duff: It’s really hard. The cakes that we make take like a week. To condense that down into 23 minutes is pretty tough. There will be some technical stuff, maybe a couple recipes. It’s not so much a cookbook though.
Mary Alice: We’re also going to feature a couple of customers—our supercustomers—that have ordered like 10 cakes from us over the past five years. So I’m excited that it’s going to be like 20 different voices, not just “this is me and this is my cake.” It’s a really big collaboration.
Duff: It’s very indicative of how the bakery works—it’s a team project. The place couldn’t function without [it]. It’s not my book, it’s our book.
On fame and people’s interest in them, the bakery, etc.:
Geof: Every time I go check out that video it’s like 20,000-something views. It’s crazy.
Sadly, Geof hasn’t been playing too many live shows these days. “I’m too busy making a television show” he responded in his endearingly deadpan style—frequently showcased on the show.
Duff: [The attention] can get overwhelming at times, but not in a negative way. It’s like: I’m late or... my thumb is cramped.
Mary Alice: There’s a lot of “Duff will you marry me” emails, “Geof will you marry me,” “Are Ben and Anna together?” I normally ignore all that stuff ‘cause you never know where that’s coming from. That’s honestly one of the main reasons why we’re doing the book. It’ll hopefully answer some of the deep, probing questions.
On Baltimore fans:
Geof: Most of them are very supportive. It’s like home for them.
Mary Alice: It’s not like "Oh my god you’re on the show," it’s "thank you for putting Baltimore on the map for something really cool."
Geof: People come up to me in the grocery store and just tell me [the show] is great. It’s not like they’re trying to get anything from you.
Mary Alice: It’s appreciation.
Duff: That’s why we do Q&A’s when we come to food festivals. We’re not going to sit there and demo a cake. People can see the cakes on TV or go to the website and see tons and tons of cakes. Here, it’s a chance for the fans to have a personal interaction with us and actually have a conversation with those people they see in their living room. We actually learn quite a bit from doing these things. Someone once suggested using piping gel, which I hadn’t thought about [before]. Now we’re ordering it by the case. It’s really cool. It’s nice for the fans because it’s gives them that personal reaction. [They see] we really are the same as we are on TV.
On the staff’s work ethic:
The crew at Charm City Cakes is known to stay at work extra-late to finish last minute details, fix massive accidents, and even start over when nothing else can be done. Duff describes Geof as “one of the most severely internally motivated people” he knows.
It’s this kind of hyper-dedicated work ethic that occasionally prompts them to even miss their own show. Hard at work, they’ll realize it’s 11 p.m. on a Thursday and the show just ended.
Geof: When I go into a project I have an idea of how I want it to look in the end. I’m always trying to achieve that as well as I can. It’s a level of perfection.
On being renewed for seasons 5 & 6:
Mary Alice claims the decision to renew Ace of Cakes for a second season was “surprising.” Now they’re being asked to do 26 more episodes to be split into seasons five and six. Are they up to the challenge?
Duff: If we have to up the ante from what we’ve already been doing…
Mary Alice: It’s going to be pretty damn high.
Duff: … it’s going to challenging, but I think that’s what we like. [We’ll continue the show] as long as it’s fun and as long as it doesn’t really interfere with us running the bakery and us staying friends.
“Are you looking to expand?” Duff gets asked this all the time, so I didn’t intend to ask the question. It’s clearly something on his mind, though, as he’s no doubt presented with lots of opportunities. At this point, Duff seems cautiously interested in the possibility, which I think is a fine place to be.
Duff: I’m definitely not looking to dilute. If there’s a way to expand that wouldn’t dilute, then I’d entertain the idea. At the same time… I don’t know. When you think about what makes the shop special, and then you try to spread it out too thin is it really that special? The opportunities are definitely there, but I’m not really sure at this point. I wouldn’t even know how to go about it. When I first started the business I was decorating cakes out of my apartment on my coffee table. The business just totally blew up. It’s not like I’m some insane entrepreneur—it just happened.
With a thriving bakery and hit TV show under his belt, Duff appears focused on making sure his next move is just as successful and isn’t comfortable leaving it up to chance. While the temptation of expansion is great, making sure he keeps the good thing he’s got going seems paramount to Duff.
If in the future Charm City Cakes is just a Baltimore-based bakery that expanded to include a Food Network show and book deal, I bet Duff would still be damn happy. And that’s awesome.
Ace of Cakes airs Thursday nights at 10:30pm ET on Food Network.
Thanks so much to Duff, Mary Alice and Geof!
UPDATE: Mary Alice just let me know that Food Network Canada will begin airing a new season (not sure which one) of Ace of Cakes Thursdays at 11pm ET and Sundays at 4:30 pm ET. Canadians rejoice!