Photos Credit: Dana HerbertWith the nicknames "The Sugar Daddy" and "King of Cakes," it's obvious that Delaware loves Chef Dana Herbert. Even though he already had his own bakery in Bear, called Desserts by Dana, the talented chef didn't become a worldwide baking sensation until he won the first season of TLC's Cake Boss: Next Great Baker back in 2011 — which awarded him a new car, $50,000 and an apprenticeship at Carlo's Bake Shop in Hoboken, New Jersey. With fantastic recipes featured in many different publications, including JustLuxe, Chef Herbert has appeared on countless television programs and has created cakes for some of the world's biggest names (like Oprah Winfrey, Ice Cube and Jill Biden).
As if his schedule hasn't been full enough since his reality TV show win, Herbert is next gearing up to break the world record for the largest wedding cake this October in Las Vegas at the International Baking Industry Exposition hosted by Buddy Valastro (host of Cake Boss).
With an early love for cooking inspired by his grandmother, Herbert's love of food developed into an academic career. He first went to the University of Delaware and finished with a Bachelor's Degree in Hotel Restaurant and Institutional Management, and next moved on to Johnson and Wales University to complete a second Bachelor's in Culinary Arts. It was during his last year of culinary school that he started noticing the pastry students. "I guess you could say it was the art that kind of drew me in, so to speak, and the physical baking aspect came after that," recalls Herbert. Following his newfound passion for baking, Herbert also added an Associates of Arts in Pastry to his list of degrees.
While going to culinary school certainly isn't necessary for everyone, Herbert gives academia credit for showing him the fundamentals. "Everybody has a different path in life; I think for me personally, that's just the path that God put me on and I think it's helped me a lot," he says. "It was good in showing me that baking is more of a science. Sometimes in culinary you can just wing in, where in baking if you're off, you're off. You can't always fix it."
After his win was announced to the world he found himself on a train to Hoboken to Carlo's Bakery to start filming for his apprenticeship the very next day. "Life's just a little different, people recognize you and want pictures and autographs. It's different," he says. "I try to use it as positively as possible by inspiring the youth and do the best I can with it."
Considering he's known for his sweets, I definitely had to know about his favorite dessert recipe, the one that never fails to impress. "If we're talking killer desserts that always gets them…I do this caramelized apple French toast with bacon, almond-lace cookie and bacon ice cream. Always works," he laughs.
Even though desserts are full of sugar, they don't always have to be terrible for you and Herbert tries his best to bring in healthy alternatives to recipe staples. With a diabetic brother and grandparents, Herbert is no stranger to carbohydrate and sugar counting to maintain a healthy diet, which is why he's become a substitution professional. "[For] cutting down on some of the fat and cholesterol you can go with apple sauce as a replacer in recipes, whether you're replacing for oil or the egg itself. It works beautifully and keeps your cakes moist," he says. He also suggests trying agave nectar in some recipes, which he uses to sweeten cheesecakes. "The flavor's really clean and there's no aftertaste." Of course, you can always try other sweeteners like Splenda and Stevia.
If you plan on baking a big cake soon and aren't sure what you need, there a couple items Herbert finds to be necessary tools, like a sheeter. Before he invested in one he used to hand roll everything, no matter how big the order was. "I have one by Somerset that I use," he says. "It just makes life faster, more efficient, evenly rolled out." He also suggests getting a nice pallet knife for getting your work off the table cleanly and nicely. Additionally, he thinks everyone should get a couple of really nice rolling pins, an acrylic one for rolling fondant and a heavy-duty one. "I have this big metal aluminum monster rolling pin," he laughs. "When you need to put some pressure on something, it's the best thing to have."
When designing a new cake Herbert first gets inspiration from his clients, making sure to really capture what they want. His second muse is women's fashion, saying that nine times out of ten he likes to look at couture designs. "I'm kind of a Chanel, Gucci guy so I look at those a little bit more, especially if I'm talking about wedding cakes." He's even been asked to match the cake to the wedding dress and though a challenge, he's always up for it. "Maybe at two in the morning I may not be as into what I got myself into," he laughs. "But the finished product always looks wonderful and you step back and you're like, 'Wow, we did it.'"
With the standard decorating time ranging anywhere from four hours to as much as 16, work can definitely take up a huge chunk of his life. In fact, his wife went into labor while he was slaving over a cake towering at almost five feet tall. "[I remember thinking], 'Just give me another hour, hour and a half," he says, recalling his hopes for a long labor. "My wife always says, 'Even when sleeping, you're downloading. Do you ever turn it off?'" he adds. "But I love what I do."
It's a good thing he loves it because he'll soon be attempting a new world record for the largest wedding cake — a whopping 20,000 pounds! The daunting task has been racing through his mind, calculating the process, how he's going to set it up, and whether or not it will be safe. "With tiers of this magnitude, if something were to fall…it's kind of like a car falling on you." The huge cake will be baked on behalf of the Susan G. Komen Foundation to raise money for breast cancer research and while a flavor hasn't been chosen yet, it will most definitely be pink.
Maybe they'll decide on one of his favorite flavors: "My favorite flavors would be red velvet with bacon, that’s a good one, I like creamsicle, southern lemon, and death by chocolate."
"When we started doing this cake, it started with, 'Hey, let's break the world record for the world's largest wedding cake.' And then it was like, 'If we're going to do it, shouldn’t it benefit somebody or a cause? We're going to put all this work into it, let someone benefit from it.' So I figured why not cancer?" he says. "So we were researching and looking at the different cancer associations and they're all great, but we noticed [Susan G. Komen Foundation] had a chapter there in Nevada and we thought what better thing to do, especially during October, breast cancer month. I figured it was something meant to be."
Once he, hopefully, establishes a new world record, the always busy Chef Herbert has a lot of plans on the horizon. "[I'll] maybe look into having my own show, [I'm]definitely going to do another cookbook, working on a new shop, and we'll see what happens from there," he says happily. If his wife is right and he processes while sleeping, I'm sure he'll get it all done in record time.