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Exlusive Interview with Celebrity Chef Buddy Valastro

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The Cake Boss

s Bartolo “Buddy” Valastro, Jr.—known to millions as the Cake Boss—a cook or an artist. “Both!” is Buddy’s immediate and unequivocal answer. There’s no question that he’s a cook. No normal person can watch his show on The Learning Channel (TLC) without salivating at the sight of all the wonderful cakes, cannolis and pastries in his headquarters, Carlo’s Bakery, in Hoboken N.J. on Washington Street (just a few doors from Tutta Pasta, a fine Italian restaurant and the subject of an earlier Amici Journal article). But is he a

true artist? He surely is! The term, “Artist,” has two main definitions: 1) an interpreter, who, like a virtuoso musician, performs the great works of the Masters, such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi and Puccini, and 2) like the giants of human genius just mentioned, finds inspiration from the world around him, usually for money, and creates masterpieces of form and concept that evoke a sense of awe in the beholder. Buddy is more like the second type—a genuine creator. Valastro’s idols are legion. “All types of artists... there are so many,” he says. 2 / Summer 2011

By: John Rizzo

Whoever the public may consider an “artist” today, those individuals have to go a long way to achieve the artistic level of Buddy Valastro. I was reminded of this when viewing an episode from his wildly popular TV show when he was commissioned to produce some of his magnificent creations by one of these artsy-fartsy Manhattan fashion designers based on some of this dilettante’s dresses for matchstick-figured women. Now, this designer is probably very well respected in his field, but the cakes Buddy came up with were leagues ahead of anything trotting down the fashion show runway in terms of being visually appealing and creative. Because Buddy labors in the visual (aside from the gastronomic) medium, he might perhaps be best compared to the Italian Renaissance masters who managed their own workshops with a crew of highly skilled apprentices. The work produced by these shops, especially projects like the Piazza Campodoglio designed by Michelangelo in Rome, was the result of the efforts of a number of artists, but it had one guiding genius that conceived of and supervised the ultimate execution. “I got a lot of good people around me,” says Valastro, “but I always feel better when I’m there.” In the tradition of many successful Italian-American enterprises, Carlo’s Bakery is a family affair. The management team is comprised of Buddy’s four older sisters and their husbands. Is Buddy completely in charge, however? “Absolutely!” he asserts. “There’s a lot of ups and downs, but they’re there when you need them. But I’m the Boss!” It is a tribute to his serene confidence and appealing character that he can force his will, even on his bossy sister, Grace, who would make lesser men run for cover! This invaluable likability that Buddy exudes is something most folks can only wish they had. An example of this came when he was dining out with family members in Rome. One of his brother-in-laws was waxing poetic over the pizza, calling it the “best” he had ever eaten. Feeling challenged, “On the spur of the moment,” Buddy recalls, he vowed he could make far better pizza than the restaurants, and talked the owner into letting him and the TLC cameras take over the kitchen temporarily. Valastro proceeded to make some pizzas from scratch that everyone agreed were better than those routinely baked by the restaurant. American tourists would find this highly believable, as the pizza they are used to in a few parts of this country are, in fact, better than the pizza one usually encounters in Italy. No wonder Buddy is in the process of “opening my own pizzeria in Hoboken.” It will be named “Sofia’s” (after his eldest daughter) and “my father-in-law will be running it.” Buddy Valastro is a second-generation Italian-American but a fourth generation baker. His father, who emigrated, to New Jersey “in the ‘50s” came from the beautiful tiny island of Lipari, off the northern coast of Sicily. It was Buddy’s father who bought Carlo’s Bakery in 1964. In the time-honored tradition, the father taught his son the nuts and bolts of the bakery business, grooming the lad to take over the operation when he came of age. Tragically, Buddy’s father died when he was seventeen. “I had to drop out of high school,” because he knew more about running the bakery than anyone else. The boy sorely missed his father’s guidance,


which was informative and nurturing, “not forceful.” And without his father’s expert direction, Buddy soon found himself, facing a crisis. One of the most popular pastries that Carlo’s had to offer was filled sfogliatelle dough “Lobster Tails.” Try as he might, Buddy could not replicate these items with the same succulence that his father had for so many years. And then, “My father appeared to me in a dream and said, ‘Son, I am here for one reason, to show you how to make Lobster Tails.’” For Buddy this marked a critical turning point in his career, because now he had the confidence to do anything, knowing that the spirit of his beloved father would always be with him. Another pivotal event for Buddy Valastro was winning The Food Network Challenge after four attempts. “I owe all my success to the Bridal Magazines,” Buddy reveals. Through a combination of advertising and write-ups, Carlo’s Bakery generated enough buzz in the industry to get Valastro on the televised competition in the show’s seventh season, called “The Battle of the Brides.” His persona was so attractive that his appearance on this show led directly to his own reality series. It was inevitable. So-called Reality TV, which features “ordinary people” instead of professional actors, and actually has its genesis in the old prize shows of the Fifties, like Heartline, Queen for a Day and You Bet Your Life, has become amazingly popular over the years. It was only a matter of time before something like The Cake Boss would get its shot at media glory. But I know of no other show of its kind that spotlights a true artist at work like Buddy Valastro. It is very cleverly produced. Even its almost constant background music that mostly consists of an up-tempo rock vamp played by drums and a virtuoso bass guitarist serves to put the focus on Valastro’s artistry. No matter what the projects in each episode, there always seems to be one segment that has a close-up of Buddy working his miracles in rapt concentration. In addition to the Cake Boss, Buddy hosts a more programmed studio show called The Kitchen Boss, now finishing its first season. In this show family recipes are prepared with various relatives or other guests occasionally joining in. Displaying more facets of his skill, Buddy says, “My approach is to cook just like my grandmother.” All in all, “TV takes up about 50% of my time and energy.” Each episode highlights at least one incredible project. My personal favorite is one where he made the large-scale replicas of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria in stunning detail. Totally unconcerned with any possibility of aspersions from politically correct circles, Buddy says straightforwardly, “Columbus discovered America.” It would be a shame if Buddy did not take advantage of his popularity, and fortunately, he is taking steps to sell his sweet delights online from a new, large facility in Jersey City. Many of Carlo’s treats will be shipped fresh throughout the country although some things, like cannoli fillings, will be frozen. “It all depends.” At this point his sister Grace is in charge of the web site. I would not like to be the web designer answering to her, however. Many Italian-American businesses of all types have become great successes, only to be sold off because the hardworking parents, who have struggled so hard to make their enterprises pay off, have goodheartedly provided their children with top educations in other fields. Will this be the case with Carlo’s Bakery? “It’s to early to tell,” says Buddy, regarding whether or not any of his children will continue in the baking business. If they do, they will have awfully big shoes to fill! History shows that it is very unlikely for a genius of Buddy Valastro’s brilliance to be followed by one of his children who can measure up to so high a level of artistry. For those who would like to read more about Buddy’s story and to take a shot at cooking like the master, they can acquire his 2010 book, Cake Boss: Stories and Recipes from Mia Famiglia.” If you’re strictly into baking of all kinds, he is coming out with a new book this November, Baking with the Cake Boss. Summer 2011 / 3

Exclusive Interview With Buddy Valastro  

Exclusive Interview With Buddy Valastro

Exclusive Interview With Buddy Valastro  

Exclusive Interview With Buddy Valastro