Dana Eugene Herbert is comfortable wearing many hats. The owner of Desserts by Dana is a savory chef, pastry chef, baker and sugar artist. The veteran entrepreneur is also a champion. In 2010, he scored a win on TLC’s “Cake Boss: The Next Great Baker,” which led to celebrity tours and guest appearances on Food Network and Cooking Channel programs.
Given that celebrities clamor for his cakes, the “Sugar Daddy” could live and work in Hollywood or Manhattan. But Herbert prefers Delaware.
“It’s a good place to raise a family,” says the father of three, who lives in Bear, near Newark. “There are great values here. The higher education is good here. When you see New Jersey residents and New Yorkers sending their kids to the University of Delaware, you know the school has great programs.”
Herbert should know. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor’s degree in hotel, restaurant and institutional management before receiving a culinary arts degree from Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island.
Clearly, he’s been a man with a plan. Herbert was prepared not only to succeed on “Cake Boss,” but also to leverage the fame that it’s brought him for the good of his career, his family and his home state.
Herbert was born in Washington, D.C. But because his father worked for the DuPont Co., the family frequently moved. They kept returning to Delaware, DuPont’s headquarters. “With every promotion, we were bouncing back to Delaware,” Herbert says. While relocating was hard, it had its benefits. “I’m grateful that I got to see different places and meet different people,” he says.
By the time he was in high school, the family was once again in Delaware, and they stayed long enough for him to graduate from John Dickinson High School in Wilmington’s Pike Creek Valley.
In his junior year, Herbert started cracking open cookbooks after school. He realized he liked to both cook and bake, and his culinary experiments alternated between the two. “I guess that’s the reason why I can now do both so easily,” says Herbert, author of “Sweet & Savory Union,” which is available on Amazon.
After high school, his father pushed his son to study business. But Herbert knew he loved the culinary world. Going to the University of Delaware for hotel, restaurant and institutional management let the two men “meet in the middle,” he says. “I had food classes and all the management stuff – it was a nice marriage. We had to take accounting, finance.”
But Herbert hungered for more culinary training. He earned a second bachelor’s degree and an associate degree in pastry at Johnson & Wales University. He trained as both a culinary and a pastry chef, but the sweet side of the business proved irresistible. While working as a savory chef, he started Desserts by Dana to “exercise” his baking and pastry skills. The company took off.
Herbert did not look for fame on television, but he was interested in culinary competitions. “I wanted to climb in the ring and go a few rounds,” he recalls. He credits a Delaware Today article that spotlighted Herbert’s ability to make pulled and blown sugar sculptures for catching the eye of the “Cake Boss” casting crew.
In addition to “Cake Boss,” Herbert won “The Next Great Baker” on TLC. He’s been on “Cake Wars” on the Food Network and “Cake Hunters.” If a show had “cake” in the title, he notes with a laugh, then he was on it. Now, with so many under his belt, he’s more interested in being a judge than a contestant.
Herbert also has received recognition from his industry outside television. He’s been profiled in Dessert Professional and was named one of the Top Ten Cake Artists in America in 2013. What’s more, the venerable James Beard Foundation asked him to participate in the James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour. He made French toast with bacon ice cream, bacon-rosemary caramel sauce and an almond-bacon tuile cookie for the first tour. Each one was a hit.
Herbert’s clients have included President Joe and Dr. Jill Biden, Oprah Winfrey, Jesse Jackson and Ice Cube. Not surprisingly, he’s received job offers from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta.
But he’s stayed in the First State and, in fact, is opening a Desserts by Dana space in UD’s Perkins Student Center so faculty and students can have access to his award-winning cupcakes and croissants. Meanwhile, he continues to serve New York, Philadelphia, Maryland and New Jersey clients from his Bear location.
For Delaware’s “King of Cakes,” Delaware’s sense of community can’t be beat.