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Hearty Short Rib Stew: A Food Network Star's Family Recipe

Duff Goldman

Hearty Short Rib Stew: A Food Network Star's Family Recipe

As part of's ongoing Recipe Vault series, food bloggers and network stars share how recipes connect us to those we’ve lost.

A hearty cold-weather stew, leisurely simmered with root vegetables and tender short ribs, can inspire feelings of warmth and comfort from the first spoonful. But for Duff Goldman, star of Food Network’s “Ace of Cakes” and owner of Charm City Cakes, the recipe's comforting nature goes beyond its savory flavors and hearty aromas. 

Growing up, how did food figure into your family dynamic?

I grew up in a very Jewish household. Food was always central to everything… we ate dinner every night together, and all the holidays revolved around food. It was funny, because we'd have everybody come over for any kind of celebration, and invariably, everybody would just go in the kitchen and hang out. People would be trying to cook, and everybody else is just standing around, picking at things, getting in trouble.

What's one recipe that reminds you of someone you've lost?

“… a short rib mushroom barley soup. When my grandmother was still alive she lived in Wichita, Kansas. That's where my mom was born and where my grandmother was born. My great grandmother, when she came from Ukraine, settled in Wichita. [At the time] I was executive pastry chef at a ski resort in Colorado, which was the next state over from Kansas. My grandma was starting to get old and sick and wasn't moving too much. Since I was just one state over, I would go – not every weekend, but as much as possible.

I got a call from my mom, and she said my grandmother had stopped eating. I think it was very conscious on her part – I think she was just kind of done. She was in some pain, not a lot, but was really uncomfortable. So I drove out to see her. I actually got arrested on the way – it was two in the morning, I was speeding and got pulled over by a Kansas state trooper. There was a bench warrant out for my arrest from a red light ticket I got in college, years ago. And he said, "I'm sorry, but I have to arrest you.” He arrested me and I bailed myself out, and… I kept going to my grandma's house.

I got there and I asked her, "Why aren't you eating?" And she said, "Oh, I just don't want to eat." And I said, "Come on, you've got to eat something." She didn't really put it into words, but I kind of knew [what she was thinking]. We've always been really close.

You know, it's weird, my grandma was a difficult person to a lot of people. She was an incredible artist, a really talented artist. Maybe she was a genius. She was a really good photographer. She saw the world in a way that was just really different from a lot of people. I think it caused her to spend a lot of time in her own head and made her somewhat difficult to be around, but we always got along really well. There was something about our relationship where we would find the same things funny, or find the same things visually or culturally interesting. One time [when] I was like 13 years old, my grandma wanted to take me on a road trip. So we got in the car and we drove all over the Southwest. We drove through Kansas, and Colorado, and New Mexico, and Arizona. We're driving around, just kind of getting down with everything. She was really into the Southwest, she loved Georgia O'Keeffe. And like I said, she was a great photographer, and we were taking pictures all the time. It's weird. You know, what grandma really wants to hang out with her 13-year-old grandson? But we just got along really well.

“I made three huge batches of soup…

I brought her a bowl, and she was so happy.”

- Duff Goldman

So I just kind of understood where she was coming from. And I said, "You've got to let me make you something to eat." She said, "The only thing I want to eat is the soup that my mom used to make, and she's not here, so I can't have it." And I said, "Well, I'll make it for you." So I called my mom and got the recipe and I went to the store to get three stockpots, big ones. I made three huge batches of the short rib mushroom barley soup — the first time I'd worked with barley. My mom talked me through the whole recipe and told me how to make it. I brought [my grandma] a bowl, and she was so happy. She just ate it all up – she was hungry. She was really loving it.

I took a bunch of Ziploc bags and cooled the soup down, and I poured the soup into the baggies and put them in the freezer. I just stacked them up frozen. So she had – it was probably, I don't know, 70 or 80 bags of soup stacked in her freezer. And there was a woman who would come every day and take care of her, and so I told her, "Hey, look, I've got enough soup here for probably like two months."

I stayed for three or four days and we hung out and talked a lot. We had a big bond over Shel Silverstein. She loved Shel Silverstein and so did I, so we read a lot of Shel Silverstein books. And there's a children's book called Verdi, about a snake who is young, and he's green, and he likes to jump around the forest and be crazy. As he gets older, he starts to turn yellow, and he turns out to be a yellow python. And it was beautifully illustrated, and my grandmother loved that. So while I was there, I cut out this one picture of the snake where he's jumping up in the air and kind of coiled in a spiral. She loved that picture, she loved it. So I cut out this big piece of cardboard like the snake, and then I painted it to look like Verdi. And I tacked it on her wall – she was sleeping. And she woke up, and there he was on the wall. She was kind of in one position in bed, and it was right there where she could see it. And she started laughing.

It was a really nice time. I think I sort of knew it was goodbye. It was nice because I was able to hang out with her, just the two of us. We got to talk about all kinds of stuff, everything I was doing, my career. I was still pretty young, about 23. I had to go back to work, and I remember I said goodbye to her and we hugged, and I kind of couldn't let go. The last time I touched her to say goodbye, it was really cute. I, like, petted her on the nose. She was sitting in bed, Indian-style, and I was getting ready to walk out with my backpack on. And I gave her a huge hug, and I think she knew too, that it was probably goodbye. And she was really smiling, she was really happy. And I think she understood it was the last time we were going to see each other. It was a good goodbye. It wasn't like a tearful goodbye, it wasn't sad or regretful or anything. It was a happy goodbye. And I petted her on the nose, and that was it.

Do you make that soup for yourself at all?

I haven't made it since. There's just something about it. I don't want to make it.

My grandmother passed away and we had another family emergency at the same time. So I had to deal with one family emergency, and my mom went to Wichita to [deal with the arrangements for my grandma]. When she got there, there were 6 or 7 packages of soup left. So she ate it. It made me happy to know that she was eating it.

If you were to be remembered by one recipe, what would it be?

I make really good fudge. Every time I make it, it goes so fast. Everywhere I've ever worked, restaurants, hotels, it would just disappear. It almost never got to the customers. Everybody else would eat it – servers, cooks, everybody would eat the fudge before anybody actually got it. The name of the recipe is "Duff's Good-Ass Fudge." Because the first time I made it, a chef tasted it and said, "Damn, that's some good-ass fudge." So that's what I called it. I think it'd be nice to be remembered by because it's not something you have very often. You know, it's not like I want to be remembered for my soft-boiled eggs or my hamburger. It's a treat. It's something you have rarely, and something I would make rarely. Plus, it's like an instant smile. If I were going to be remembered by this fudge, and you eat it and you smile? That's a good thing.

Click to read more about Chef Goldman and his staff.

Written by Linnea Crowther and Halley Burns. Find Linnea on Google+. or connect with Halley on Twitter at @halley_rosetta.