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Bake like a Cake Boss

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Interview with Cake Boss' Dana Herbert

Isn't it amazing how professional bakers can make the most awe-inspiring works of art with butter, sugar and some coloring? Though few of us will be master cake decorators, we can still have fun in the kitchen when the occasions for beautiful, creative cakes arise. Whether you need cake baking inspiration or you can't get enough in the way of cooking reality shows, here's our exclusive interview with Chef Dana Herbert, winner of TLC's Cake Boss: The Next Great Baker.

Dana Herbert, Cake Boss WinnerChef Dana Herbert is the "King of Cakes"

Chef Dana Herbert, owner of Desserts by Dana in New Castle, Delaware, lives and breathes pastry art and custom cakes for all occasions. He is known as Delaware's King of Cakes but has also earned the endearing moniker The Sugar Daddy because his unbelievable cake decorating work with pulled and blown sugar. This baking pro has gotten a lot of attention for his big win on TLC's Cake Boss: The Next Great Baker, which premiered in December 2010. After proving his special jaw dropping talent for baking great tasting artistic cakes, Chef Herbert took home the gold (and a new car!). He has also been featured on Wetv for Wedding Cake Wars, TLC's Ultimate Cake Off and a variety of television magazine programs. The cake decorating expert's work speaks for itself, but we had a few more questions for Chef Herbert to find out where he gets his seemingly ceaseless inspiration for designs and how we home bakers can improve our special occasion cakes.

Q&A with Cake Boss winner Chef Dana Herbert

SheKnows: Have you always been a master baker or were you inspired in the midst of another career?

Dana Herbert's cakeChef Dana Herbert: I actually started on the savory side of the business. I have been in restaurants since I was 16 years old. My first job was at McDonalds, so I went from flipping burgers to working at a nursing home as a dietary aide in the kitchen. As time went along, I fell in love with cooking. I worked my way up through the ranks and levels of dining. I worked at places such as the Marriott, Hotel DuPont, Four Seasons, etc. It was apparent I loved food and food loved me. I told myself I would go to culinary school after I finished my bachelor's in Hotel Restaurant Management -- and so I did.

SheKnows: What sparked your passion for baking?

Chef Dana Herbert: I guess you could always say the seed was planted when I was young. I used to sit at my grandmother's counter praying a sugar cookie scrap would come my way, or maybe she would ask me to taste her apple jelly she made from scratch. Man that was good. I am having a craving for some right now on some hot buttered toast. Grandma could really burn. Baking and cooking, she did it all. Even with all that, I didn't come back to baking until I went to culinary school.

SheKnows: What was the turning point for you in culinary school?

Dana Herbert's cakeChef Dana Herbert: My last year of my bachelor's in Culinary Arts, I recall cutting some onions and crying over them. Macho tears that is! Nevertheless, I was watching the pastry students make crazy works of art, and I was chopping onions. At that point the mind starts to churn, and I really was intrigued by what they were doing, so I decided to do a pastry degree once I completed the B.S. in Culinary Arts. Once I got into the major, I was hooked. I created all kinds of tasty and beautiful things out of butter, flour and sugar. How could you go wrong with that? Once I got out of school, my thirst was and still is unquenchable. I'm always looking to learn more and challenge myself constantly to be better in the field.

SheKnows: How do you keep things fresh and stay passionate for your work?

Chef Dana Herbert: Passion comes from doing what you love. If you love it, you are truly devoted to it, just like being married to my wife. To keep things fresh, I am always picking up a magazine, checking out a cooking show, looking at other websites and testing things in the kitchen. Sometimes your mistakes are your best triumphs.

SheKnows: Your cakes are super creative! What are your decorating tips/tricks for home bakers to create show-stopping cakes?

Thank you so much for the kudos on my super creative cakes. Some basic tricks or tips for the home bakers would be: 

  1. Concentrate on flavor. So many people miss the mark here and go for decoration. A cake can be pretty, but if it doesn't taste good, then you've lost your audience. Like the saying, beauty is only skin deep. Try to think of a flavor that everyone enjoys and then add luscious complements. For example, my daughter's christening cake was almond flavored, and I enhanced it with salted caramel, toasted almonds and a luscious butter cream before I covered it and got to the artwork.
  2. Aim for contrasting and complementing colors. You want your cake to be visually appealing and memorable. Use colors that work well together and when you can, sneak in something bold or something with some gold or silver. Make it memorable.
  3. Hone your piping skills. These go a long way and give you versatility.
  4. Practice on your family. I know it sounds crude, but who else will forgive you for your mistakes?

SheKnows: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Chef Dana Herbert: In five years, I will have a new shop for sure and hopefully be starring in my own show. More than likely a handful of cookbooks will be in circulation as well as some home products for baking and cooking.

There's more! If you're craving hands-on cake decorating training from Chef Dana Herbert, sign yourself up for the upcoming baker's cruise in Bermuda in spring 2012. Get the details here.

More baking tips

You'll flip your lid! 5 Dessert-in-a-jar recipes
5 Ways to use puff pastry
Cooking 101: Perfect pie crust

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