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A FAMILY AFFAIR Enjoy genuine Italian home cooking at Buddy Valastro’s first restaurant


et’s face it: Las Vegas has been pretty kind over the years to Italian-American émigrés from Hoboken, New Jersey. Sixty-two years ago this past September, a gentleman named Frank Sinatra played his first set on The Strip, retiring decades later with the title Chairman of the Board. In 2013, it’s the Cake Boss, Buddy Valastro, who’s preparing to leave his mark on the city’s culture – and your appetite – with his latest venture, Buddy V’s, in the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian and The Palazzo. If Valastro doesn’t sport a tattoo that reads “Born to Bake”, maybe he should, because baking is as much a part of his make-up as flour, eggs and sugar are of the tasty concoctions he creates. The foundation of his empire, Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, first opened its doors more than a century ago and is one of the city’s premiere, and longest-serving, establishments. His father, Bartolo Valastro Sr.,


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DISHING UP Buddy’s Caprese. Opposite: Buddy V’s Ristorante at The Venetian. Previous pages: Roasted Branzino and (inset) Buddy’s Salumi & Cheese Board.


acquired the shop a baker’s dozen years before Buddy was born, and the youngster literally grew up there, learning his craft at the hands of a third-generation master. “Not only was dad a great baker,” says Valastro, “but he was a really amazing cook. I remember coming home as a kid, and when I walked into the garage on the way into the house I could already smell something fantastic, and I knew that dad was at the stove. Not only did he teach me how to cook, but I like to believe he also passed on his gift. Lots of things you can learn, but there’s also a special quality that comes only from the heart.” When Buddy Sr. passed away in 1994, his son stepped into the boss’ shoes at the age of 17. With the help of his family (along with his mom, who recently retired,

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no fewer than 10 other family members work in the enterprise) he not only maintained the business, but expanded it. After appearing in a series of Food Network challenges he cooked up a pastry-centric reality series of his own for TLC, and in 2009, Cake Boss, which has run for six seasons as one of the network’s top shows, was born. He went on to host Next Great Baker , with another show, Bakery Boss , making its debut in December. On top of that, he has two new books out: Family Celebrations with the Cake Boss: Recipes for Get-Togethers Throughout the Year and The Essential Cake Boss. With so many plates spinning in the air, why would he possibly want to open another restaurant?

BUDDY’S FAVORITE WINTER WARMERS Wintertime at Buddy V’s, at home and in his restaurant, is the season for rib-sticking fare as only the Italians can make it. Topping the list is Sunday Gravy, grandma-style, cooked low and slow, with sweet Italian sausage, meatballs and garlicky goodness cradled in a superbly spiced tomato sauce. Milkfed Veal Parmigiana is served on the bone, pounded thin and fork-tender. The Osso Buco, according to Valastro, “is braised for at least four hours, until the meat is literally falling off the bone,” and it features celery, onions, and plum tomatoes – ingredients that mirror the colors of the Italian flag – to build up a flavor base in support of the dish’s star ingredient: the expertly-seared veal shanks. Oh, and don’t forget to leave room for dessert. Buddy’s own recipe for Osso Buco can be found in his book Cooking Italian with the Cake Boss: Family Favorites as Only Buddy Can Serve Them Up.

“This is a dream come true for me,” says Valastro. “I feel like I’m bringing a different concept to the table, no pun intended. Food was always a family affair around our house, everybody from three generations gathering around and breaking bread together. I think that lots of folks, in their busy day-to-day lives, have kind of lost some of that tradition, and I want to bring it back into Buddy V’s.” Family is never far from Valastro’s mind, and he turned to his “culinary heroes” – his aunts, mom, wife, and mother-in-law – and their recipe books for Buddy V’s.

“Every Tuesday night during the winter my mom used to make pasta and lentils,” says Valastro, “and on Sunday, the whole family would dine on my grandma’s gravy. I think back to that kind of living, and I want to share it with others.” (“Gravy,” for those who aren’t from Jersey or of Italian descent, is a slowcooked tomato-based meat sauce that goes over pasta. Apparently, not only did everyone’s grandmother make gravy, but everyone’s grandmother made “the best” gravy. Valastro’s grandmother was no exception.)

BOOK BOSS Buddy Valastro’s latest cookbook Family Celebrations with the Cake Boss has recipes to make every gathering a memorable one.

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ITALIAN SPECIALS Buddy Valastro, the latest celebrity chef to join The Strip. Inset: Mozzarella en Carozza. Opposite: Tuna Caponata.

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Picture credits: Bill Milne

“Lots of things you can learn, but there’s also a special quality that comes only from the heart” “During Lent, when we couldn’t have meat, we’d sit down to a dinner of my wife’s Eggplant Parmigiana, and you could take a forkful and a wedge of crusty bread and make a little sandwich out of it. It just doesn’t get any better than that.” To help develop the restaurant’s menu, Valastro and friends hosted an 18-hour bake-off at his home, with his extended family all pitching in with recipes, sharing cooking duties, conversation, and from the sound of it, a hearty helping of love. “It was one of the most memorable nights of my life,” says Valastro. “Simplicity at its best.” But opening a restaurant on the Las Vegas dining scene, where world-class chefs Mario Batali, Thomas Keller, Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck have already staked their claims, is no cake walk. Is the Cake Boss concerned he might get iced by the competition? “I have the utmost respect for these gentlemen – they’re culinary geniuses,” says Valastro. “I’m not going to try to tell you I’m some sort of high-class chef; I’m not. I kinda think they may be under a little more scrutiny than I am, at least as far as the chef part goes. And I imagine that I will be under the same sort of scrutiny for my desserts, which I both expect and deserve. What I am is a pretty good home cook who knows how to feed people and have them leave both full and happy.” As well as drawing on family ties for the restaurant’s recipes, Valastro has partnered with two visionaries of the hospitality industry – veteran restaurateurs Elizabeth Blau and Kim Canteenwalla – to bring the concept to life. And while Buddy V’s brings the comfort of home-style cooking to the restaurant dining experience, it also offers spectacular views of The Strip. John Caparella, President and COO of The Venetian, The Palazzo and Sands Expo, couldn’t be happier: “The vision of Buddy and his team is to create a restaurant that will take many of us back to an Italian Sunday dinner with the family. What a perfect fit for The Venetian and The Palazzo.”

Of course, no dinner at Buddy V’s would be complete without dessert and, in addition to the cakes, cannoli and other confections one might expect from a master baker, perhaps the centerpiece is his signature creation, the Lobster Tail. Based on an Italian pastry known as sfogliatelle, the Lobster Tail is a creamy, crunchy dietbuster of a dessert, filled with Chantilly cream and a hint of Baileys Irish Cream liqueur and topped with powdered sugar. A single order is sufficient for two, so be sure to save some room, and some time, to taste his gastronomic magnum opus, available exclusively at the restaurant. Only time will tell if Buddy Valastro will take Las Vegas by storm the way his legendary predecessor did more than half a century ago. Perhaps the biggest difference between the Chairman of the Board and the Cake Boss is that the former journeyed to Las Vegas to put Hoboken in the rear-view mirror, while the latter is bringing a generous serving of his New Jersey heritage west with him. Despite the differences, each of the masters of their respective crafts has more than earned the right to proclaim, “I did it my way.”

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