fondant and fame

'Ace of Cakes' fans have a thing for bakery artist Geof Manthorne

September 17, 2008|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,jill.rosen@baltsun.com

Fans of Geof Manthorne - you lovelorn legions who thrill at the sight of the slim, slightly bedraggled hipster/cake decorator who's risen to unlikely cable fame on Ace of Cakes - you swooning masses must know something crucial.

You swooning masses include the woman who jumped on Manthorne outside the Baltimore bakery where the show is set, snuggling up to him cougarishly for a photo.

Also the three middle-aged women spotted giggling outside the bakery, bumping into each other as they tried to peek inside the mail slot.

And most definitely the college girl who's posted an online letter to Manthorne. "Dear Geof," she types. "I've been watching Ace of Cakes and I must say you are my favorite. I think that you are amazingly attractive. ... I just wanted to let you know that I have a totally innocent crush on you and it sometimes makes me wish I didn't live in Dallas."

Girlfriends, sit down, one and all: Geof Manthorne is taken. Very.

As if that weren't devastating enough, the woman in question not only works with him at Charm City Cakes, but her job involves sorting the office correspondence. So all those lovey-dovey cards and coy e-mails?

She's read 'em. And laughed.

"When the word 'crush' appears in an e-mail," says Jessica Curry, Manthorne's redheaded significant other of the last few years, "it's a pretty good indication it has nothing to do with a cake order."

Food Network's Ace of Cakes has transformed the 34-year-old Manthorne into the unlikeliest of heartthrobs. When his smitten fans aren't e-mailing the bakery, they're anchored on the Remington sidewalk holding up "I (heart) Geof" signs. When they aren't shrieking for him at food festivals, they're approaching him with marriage proposals. When librarians order a cake, they want a special Manthorne delivery.

It's enough to give a guy a complex. But not Manthorne. With his sheepish smiles, dry asides and easy, hippie vibe, he's cool with it.

"I'm flattered that people are, I dunno, interested," says Manthorne, a man of few words who often goes entire half-hour episodes without uttering more than a handful of syllables - a lot of them being "Yeah."

Manthorne is the first person Duff Goldman turned to six years ago when his business making wildly creative custom cakes became too much to handle on his own. At the time, Manthorne was building models for Baltimore architects.

"Geof was in a state of mind where he didn't want to keep doing architectural models," Goldman said. "So he came here, and I taught him how to play with sugar."

It's no surprise that the animated Goldman, the show's star and namesake, gets his share of fan mail. But Manthorne plays the introverted yin to his friend's in-your-face yang.

"You've got Duff, who's the polar opposite of me, outgoing and brash," Manthorne says. "He's in charge. I'm the introspective, quiet one, the right-hand man. I guess some people go for Duff, some people go for me."

Goldman, who lives for the scrapple Manthorne makes him every year for his birthday, says his friend is no sidekick.

"He's an incredibly talented guy that one is just drawn to," the baker says. "It's certainly interesting to watch someone so dedicated to what they're doing. And the fact that he's cute doesn't hurt."

Curry, who met Manthorne at a Fluid Movement water ballet show (she was swimming, he was working the sound), understands what other women see in her icing-stained man.

"It may be a little of that mysterious-guy thing," she says. "It may be that some people are attracted to the thing where something might be lurking just below the surface."

The Manthorne portrayed in the show is pretty much the Manthorne you get when the cameras stop rolling, Curry and Goldman agree.

"That's how he is. He doesn't emote. That's his thing," Goldman says. "He doesn't say much, but what he does say is absolutely hysterical."

At the bakery recently, Manthorne is hunched over his workstation, wielding an X-Acto knife to carve fondant with a surgeon's precision. His impossibly skinny jeans are dusted with powdery cornstarch.

He's making a replica of a firetruck out of cake, forming ladders from sugar and molding the Play-Doh-like fondant into tiny taillights, windows, strips of chrome.

When the orders are highly technical, the meticulous Manthorne is the bakery's go-to guy. As Goldman puts it, Manthorne thinks like an architect or an engineer "but has a very artistic soul."

When he finishes the firetruck, he'll craft edible versions of Nationals Park in Washington and Pittsburgh's Heinz Field.

Manthorne describes himself as meticulous and slow, a perfectionist. And with only about a cake a week to do these days, he can be. With fame brought on largely by the TV show, Charm City Cakes has become more exclusive. Cakes start at $1,000 - with the more elaborate ones going for much, much more. Still, the bakery is booked into next year.

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