March 15, 2012

An Up Close & Personal talk with The Cake Boss, Buddy Valastro

Photos were provided by the Valastro family & TLC..

Tradition...a very important word for a young man growing up Italian in Northern NJ. If only because when we heard it we now knew we were in for one of those stories about the good ole days and "not like you kids today". When our father or uncle, or grandfather pulled the 'tradition card' you would have to stay a spell and listen. In an Italian household, especially those with a specific craft or skill set that runs through generations, such as mason, or carpenter, baker, car mechanic, art dealer, or whatever was the specialty of a household, while all families wished better for their sons & daughters, Papa was always sneakingly hoping the kids would come into the 'family' business.

Need some proof? Okay:. Baldini & Sons, Vincenso & Sons, Bartulli & Sons, Palucci & Sons, Martini & Sons, & Sons & Sons & Sons. Nuff said? There are many staple Italian restaurants in the northeast and elsewhere, where upon entering, you are facing fifth (5th) generation family members who are taking NANA & PAPA'S dream into the 21st century with time tested family recipes and wearing the family name proudly.

Some of us rebelled from tradition, wishing to make our own way, success or failure. Others listened. Oh thank God for those who listened, so as to save a rebel like me when I need a sfogliatella with which to drown my sorrows. Bartolo Jr. “Buddy” Valastro is one who listened. Or, maybe listened and rebelled at the same time. He's passionate about the bakery he inherited from his father and has worked hard to preserve a tradition. He is passionate about his bakery, Carlo's, his art, his pastry, his competitions on Foodnetwork's Challenge, still recalling when we talked, "maybe I should of done this and used more fondant here," as if the event were just yesterday. Today, Buddy is an accomplished master baker and cake decorator and star of the hit TLC reality show Cake Boss. He's often asked to demonstrate, compete, and teach his craft around the country. In his 10,000 sq ft. state of the art facility, Buddy and his staff turn out thousands of wedding cakes, specialty cakes, and pastries weekly.

Through all this, Buddy is most passionate about his family. His legacy to his father, and dedication to the rest of his family and community are a throwback. To old world values of commitment, loyalty, love, dedication, and yes... tradition. From an outsiders perspective, but being one who is very familiar with the dynamic of the Italian father-son, mother-son relationship, it is my opinion that the most important tradition that Buddy has kept of Bartolo Sr. & matriarch Mary Valastro actually has nothing to do with the bakery at all. It's that of being a good decent, hardworking guy who loves and takes care of his family and upholds the integrity of the family name.

The Interview

Lou: We all have seen the relationship you have with your mom. Tell us about your relationship with your dad, outside of the bakery.

Buddy: My dad was my best friend before he passed away. We did many, many things together. We went fishing together, we bowled together, we took a trip together. He wanted to show me where he was born, show me that he succeeded. He was a little poor boy from Sicily, who was born in this shack, came here with nothing and worked hard. It was like a life lesson he taught me. My father instilled values in me and made me the man I am today in so many ways.

When he died, the wake was for three days. When I tell you there was a line, up the block, around the corner, just people waiting to see him. I realized he touched so many people's lives. It was the little things, "I went out of my way for this one, I made a cake a little extra special for this one, or I made a phone call for this guy." I saw the love and respect that everybody had for him. He didn't do much, well he did, it was just little things that really impressed me.

Lou: He was just being himself.

Buddy: Just being who he is. I'll tell you a really good story: When my dad died, my mother and I were at my house. Our landscaper, who was our landscaper for 20 years, came and knocked on the door. He was crying that my father had died. I remember being a kid and my father telling me, "Buddy go get them (the landscapers) iced tea, get them egg sandwiches, get them a beer." He would sit down and have a conversation and a meal with our landscaper. My dad died in March, there was snow on the ground and the landscaper came crying telling us he was so sorry for our loss. He said, "I want you to know I'm going to come here tonight and I'm going to plant all flowers." My mother says, "No, absolutely not, we don't want to do that."

Lou: We're taught that. We don't say yes.

Buddy (laughing) : He said, "When the boss comes here for the last time, I want to make the place the way he liked it. I'll come back the next day and rip every flower out, but when he comes past in his casket, I want his house to look the way he liked it." That man sat outside my house with blow dryers, thawing out the dirt, to plant flowers and he did. You can understand the magnitude of the man that he was.

Lou: It says a lot about who he was for someone to go to such lengths to show their respect. You And I, we grew up in the same house, just different moms. We as Italians understand the ability to spend 24 hours a day with our family and not kill each other. How did you and your family deal with being together all the time? We're not talking about now, we're talking about when you were growing up. If you weren't home you were at the bakery, if you weren't at the bakery you were home. How did your mom and dad balance that for you growing up and giving you a normal life?

Buddy: Certain things in my family and my household are traditions and seemed normal to me because we didn't know any different. Christmas morning the bakery was open. We weren't toasting eggnog like everybody else. My dad would work and we would wait until he came home and opened our gifts together. (Someone in the background tries to talk to him and he responds with, "Oh.....I am in an interview, I cannot be disturbed.")

Lou: It's just like the TV show (laughing).

Buddy: Yeah, basically. That was a sense of normalcy to us. There were times when me and my sisters wanted to kill each other, or they would pick on me. No matter what, my parents instilled the value in us that said, "They're your family." Even to this day, some of my sister's drive me crazy, but I would jump in front of a bus for one of my sisters. The only person who can yell and scream and call them crazy, is me. Nobody else, you understand what I'm trying to say?

Lou: We know that you worked in the bakery from a very young age. There has to be a time when you night have thought, "I want to do something else." What was it?

Buddy: Honestly, I always wanted to do it. Dad always tried to keep me away from it. When I was young my dad said, "I don't want this for you. You're going to go to school, you're going to be a somebody." When I was twelve (12) years old, I got into trouble, not bad trouble, with my friends. After that he said, "You don't like school, you don't like this, you're going to work. You want it, you got it." He tried to scare me straight. He brought me to work. I loved it, it was like my calling. I could tell he was surprised because I was great at it. Instantaneously I picked things up. I remember him, I was 14 or 15 years old, and he used to have people come pick me up so I could work, because I was needed. He'd send Jimmy to pick me up 4 o'clock in the morning.

As my dad, before he passed away, got sick, it was just one of those things that I was given those responsibilities. Here I am 14/15 years old, it's around the holidays, I'm cuttin' school like 4 or 5 days, not that we did much the week, but I'm cuttin' school to work. Which was completely opposite from most kids. If they were cutting school it was something that most likely would get them into trouble, but you were going to work. I remember my first day at work, my father wanted to teach me humbleness. I asked if I was going to make cakes. He brought me into the bathroom and said, "Clean the toilet bowl."

Oohh. That's humbling.

That was my first day. (laughing) That's what I did. It was very important to him that I knew all aspects of the bakery. I knew what it was like to be the pot washer, the delivery guy, the cake decorator, the mixer, the baker. You don't see it much on the show, but I'm a really good baker. I really understand mixing, I'm a bench man, I know how to work with dough. Anything, danish, croissants, you name it I can do it without a problem. All parents say the same thing, "I'm working really hard, I want you to be somebody." It could have been my father saying that.

When you first started, and he saw that you had a love for the bakery, even though he said to you, "I want something better for you," did you get a sense that he was really proud of you following his tradition?

Absolutely, he was so proud of the things I could do. Sometimes he wouldn't tell me, he'd tell his friends.

They don't want us to get a big head (laughter).

He always wanted to keep me grounded. His friends would tell me, "He's so proud of what you can do." Believe it or not, when it came to cake decorating, I was almost exceeding what he could do.

You said, "If somebody cut you, you would bleed icing."

In his defense he didn't have the mediums that I have. I was way ahead of my time. I encountered problems with some of the recipes that he had and I reformulated them, like the butter-cream recipe.
The old timers had a different mentality, it was all about volume. They used to throw the butter and shortening in the bowl, whip the shit out of it and get as much as they can. Yeah it's great, but the next day when you go to ice a cake, it's going to look like crap. I went around it and called the shortening companies up and found the breaking points. How long it should be mixed, what the temperature should be, what the ratios are, you know what I'm saying. I went to the science end of it, things that my dad wouldn't have understood. I changed a lot of recipes like that. Once I started changing things like that, I had better mediums to work with and I became excellent. I had 50-60 wedding cakes a weekend to practice on. I used to squeeze 800 pounds of butter-cream a week through a little tube. I had forearms like Popeye. (Laughing)

What was it like for you being the only boy, not counting your dad, in a house full of girls?

I have to say, I didn't really compete with my sisters. My sisters never had anything to do with cake decorating or baking or anything. They always just did the store front. My dad's theory was the guys were in the back and the girls were in the front. Now I have a bunch of girls working for me and my dad is probably rolling over in his grave. (Laughing)

That's the bakery, how about at home.

I grew up in an Italian family. I was the baby and the only boy. I never did nothing. (Loud laughter by everyone) I was a spoiled brat! It's funny too, sometimes my brother-in-laws get mad, because when I go to my sisters' houses, they sit me down and they cater to me. It's like it's ingrained. If I sit down and say where is the salt, they'll jump up and get me salt.

You're the godfather of the table.

Yea, (chuckling) but that's how me and my dad were.

We know you were very close to your dad, but at 17 when your mom handed you the reins, not just for the bakery but the family too, how did you cope with that? That's a lot of pressure.

It was a lot of pressure, but my family helped me through it. I'm not going to try and say I did it all on my own. There were a lot of battles, and a lot of struggles. I had a lot of bakers who didn't want to respect me.

Were you overwhelmed a bit, we're not talking about the bakery? You're 17 and you're kind of the patriarch.

And I lost my best friend. My dad was like a living god, a legend. It was like he could walk on water. I had really big shoes to fill.

How did you handle it?

There were times I didn't know what the hell I was going to do. There were times I just wanted to run away and never come back. My wife says, "You take care of everything." If I don't do it, who's going to do it for the family.

Did you ever resent that?

I think that God gives certain jobs to certain people who can handle them. There are people who are doers and there are people who are not. I'm the kind of person who can handle it. Sometimes I find myself struggling, overstressed or overworked, but God made me a worker and able to handle it.
What am I doing this for? Everything I do now, I'm doing it for my kids, my wife, my sisters, my nieces and nephews. I always told my dad, we used to kid, one day I'm going to make this bakery a household name. I remember him laughing as we looked at wedding cakes in magazines, saying the cakes are beautiful. He said, "Maybe son one day we'll be in magazines. I said, "Dad, I promise you, we'll be in magazines. I'm going to do whatever I have to do." I knew that I had talent to do it.

You've talked on TV and on the Foodnetwork Challenge, about carrying on your father's legacy and taking it to the next level. When you took over, did you hope you could do it, or did you know you could do it?

At first, it was I hope I can do it, then it turned into I know I can do it. The one thing we had a lot of problems with was the Sfogliatella, it's the hardest Italian pastry to make. If somebody comes in and says they are an Italian baker, you ask, do you know how to make Sfogliatella? If they tell you yes and they know how to do it, then they're good. That was always the test that my father taught me.
We were having problems with them because my dad always handled them, I was so frustrated. I remember falling asleep one night, it was the first dream I ever had of my father, it was weird. Being Italian, weird shit like this you'll get, my father comes to me in the bakery. I said, "Oh my God dad, wow, I'm so happy to see you. Where have you been?" It was probably six months after he died. He says to me, "I'm not here to bullshit with you." (We're laughing at this.) He said point blank, "I'm here to show you how to pull Sfogliatella." I get chills when I think of the story. We started working side by side, doing the motions. As my hands moved, his hands moved, it was the same thing. By the time we were done there were two of me. He passed the torch to me, kind of. The next day I went in and no problem.

My next question was going to be what got you through that time, but I think you answered that.

I've always been a lucky guy. I believe in faith and that good things happen to good people. I always go out of my way for people. You don't have to publish this, I have a homeless guy that I see every day and I basically give him money to eat and for clothes and stuff. I remember being young with my dad, he'd always give to the homeless. I was probably 8 years old and I asked him why he always gave to the people.
He said, "First of all I know what it's like to be poor and hungry." I don't but he did. He said, "This could be Jesus or God asking me for money. I have a pocketful of money and I'm not going to give this guy some to eat?" It made so much sense to me. From that day forth, anybody who asked me, I always stop and always give. I believe that if you are good in life, good things happen to you.

We're going to talk more about your charitable side a little later. So here I am, interviewing you, "The Cake Boss" and right after we're done, the crew from TLC is here and you start shooting without thinking about it. Put yourself in your dad's head and tell me what he would say to you? How do you think he would feel?

He would be so friggin' proud. What an accomplishment. To see what I've done and where I've taken things. My mom often cries and says, "Man, if only your dad could only see what you did." Listen, I was given a great opportunity. I had a thriving business, we've been around almost a hundred years, but I took that business and I brought it to another level. I can say that proudly. I can say that I just didn't inherit my father's business, and I don't work, and I'm lucky. I broke my ass and made this happen.

You took the legacy and you're turning it into something bigger.

Exactly.

Most people don't understand the dynamic of Italian families, and I know you are very close with your mom and your sisters. Your persona on TV is tension and a lot of yelling. for us , that's completely normal. (Lou) We talk at a very high level, even when we are happy with each other. It's when we don't talk to each other that you know we are upset with each other.

Me and my sisters, we could fight in the morning and have dinner that night (We laugh).

My sister and I are exactly the same way. What would you say to those fans and viewers that perceive you as always being angry and yelling to make them understand that that's normal.

First, you've got to put them in my shoes too. Right off the bat, I'm in charge of 40 people. That in itself is a problem.

Most of them Italian.

Yeah, (laughing) number two, I never thought it would be this bad, I have to put in my schedule time to pee. This was the only hour I had (8:00 a.m.) otherwise we would have had to do this interview at 10 o'clock at night.

I appreciate you taking the time.

It's not a problem. I guess when I get bothered with stupid things, I fly off the handle. You'll notice I have employees for so many years, if I was that bad of a guy, do you think I'd have employees for 40 or 50 years? My workers would bleed for me. They would go to hell and back because I've been there with them. I'm not the kind of boss who barks out orders and leaves.

You would bleed for them.

Absolutely I do. Down and dirty. When push comes to shove, on personal levels and everything else, they'll come to me. Sometimes I'm a boss, a financial counselor, a financial helper, whatever they need, they come to me. Anything within my means, I do. They're having problems at home and need a day off, they're over stressed, it happens, it's human nature. But you have to be willing to take the good with the bad. It's the same with my sisters too.

There are a number of episodes where you and Mary were going at it. I was thinking, there it is, that brother/sister thing.

Absolutely. You know what? My sister inevitably knows that I know best. (chuckles) Mary is a perfect example. Mary is a good person. I don't want people to perceive her as a bitch. I want people to know all the good she does. Is she a pain in the ass? Yes, hands down, but you have to see how much good she does. Mary would be the first one to give you the shirt off her back.

That doesn't sell episodes unfortunately in some cases. It's a persona.

That's true too, but besides episodes, it's just in life. So I'm like, "Look Mare, why do you have to be a bitch?" "I don't care what people think." (Mary)
"Well I care. You're really not a bitch. So why should people think you are one." (Buddy)
It was always about my image, even before the show. I want people to say, "Hey, Buddy, he's a good guy, he does what he's gotta do. He works hard, he's a family man, he's a good guy."

You're running Carlo's bakery to your father's standards, TV's not in the picture, how did you meet Lisa?

(You can hear the smile in his voice.) My cousin was here from Italy and her parents were friends with them. He was having dinner at her house and I stopped there to pick him up, we were going out to a night club. I was 23 and my wife was 20 at the time and couldn't get into the clubs. My cousin says me, "Lisa's here, do you think you could get her into the club?" I was like, yeah no problem, I'll get her in. We went dancing that night and we kind of hit it off. Boom, that was it. We were married a year and half later.

Did she get free pastries when you were dating?

It's funny, she did. She always knew me. It's north Jersey, everybody knows everybody. She knew who I was and about the bakery. She was a very old fashioned girl. She wanted to be a housewife, she didn't want to work. She was looking for certain things and I was looking for a girl like that. I was a spoiled brat, don't get me wrong, I was working like dog. But at home I didn't pick up after myself or worry about anything and not everybody understands that.

Did you woo her with sfogliatella or cannolis?

(He chuckles) It's funny, she's one of my biggest critics. She's a pain in the ass when I do things. I'll ask her if she likes something, she's go 'eh.' She likes the cakes, likes being part of the family. She's a good girl.
We got married (a year and half after we met) and she's been supportive of everything. Even for her to just deal with me, I work a lot.

You've never worked anywhere except the bakery. Long, long hours, you're there early in the morning until late at night. At least Lisa knew what she was getting into. How did you squeeze in time to date?

When I was in my early twenties I felt like I had a lot more energy. It was weird, I'd get to work at 6 in the morning and work until 5 or 6 at night. I'd go home, eat and sleep until 10 or 11, go out till 2 in the morning, then go home and sleep or a couple of hours. It was weird. I had it down to a science, a system. After I started dating Lisa, instead of going home to sleep, I go home, then spend some time with her and then I'd be at work. She was a home girl. She just wanted to be married, that type of lifestyle. We go out for dinner and go dancing once in awhile. For the most part, she was just content spending time with me.

When you decided to ask her to marry you, who did you tell first? We Italian guys, when we decide to marry a girl, we have to tell somebody.

My mother. My mother helped me go pick out the ring.

How did you propose to her?

On one knee in my house. I was going to do this big thing in front of the families, but I had the ring and I just wanted to give it to her. I was just so excited. We had a really wonderful evening and I just said, "Hey, I love you." I asked permission too.

So being a good Italian boy, you to talk to her parents. How many cakes did you have to pay for her dowry?

(Laughter) Lots of cakes, lots of cakes. My in-laws are great. They are like us. I didn't marry my wife because she was Italian, but it made things a lot easier. In the sense that she understood the traditions, and this and that. I went and asked her parents and they were really happy.

You asked them before you asked her?

Yes, absolutely.

So they knew before she did.

You hafta. You hafta have the father's permission. I was actually shooting pool with my father-in-law in his basement. I asked him and he was ecstatic.

Did you make your own wedding cake?

Absolutely, it was huge. I worked two and half weeks just on the flowers.

Tell us about the day you told your mother she was going to be a grandma.

It's kind of weird on that because she has so many grand-kids. I wasn't the first, but she was really happy.

Well, you were the baby of the family.

Anyone one of us she is happy. But there are just so many of them. (Laughing) There are twelve (12) grandchildren now.

Does she spoil your kids?

She spoils all the kids. She is a great grandma. She's always been there for everything. I've got a great mother.

Will history repeat itself, and when the Cake Boss retires will they, your kids, be in the business too?

I sound like my father. I really want them to go to school and not go through what I went through. But inevitably, when I see them here and see how much they love it, I can't change history. If it's gonna happen, it's gonna happen, you don't know. I don't know what the business is going to be like then. It might be a better business for them. It might not be so involved as it is for me. You don't know who's going to be creative enough to do it, or not. I am a clone of my father, if you look at pictures of my father and me. I can remember his arms and his hands. It's like a cast of him was made by me. I look at my son Buddy and it's the same thing. Who really knows.

Do the kids come into the bakery and you mess around with them?

Yeah, they come in and we play around making cakes. I remember being a little boy and rolling out dough and cutting cookies out, bake them and bring them home to mommy. I do the same thing with my kids.

The kids are small now, but coming soon is baseball, play dates, girl scouts and school events. In business, you're a lot like me; you have to be there all the time to make sure that everything is perfect. Yet you are a devoted family man, that much is obvious. Right now, it's easy to devote the time to things that you are perusing, because they are little, but in the back of your mind is this nagging little thought of being there for your kids, and your obsession of needing to know what's going on at the bakery. You're already thinking about how you are going to deal with it. Have you figured it out yet, or are you leaving that for when it happens?

I haven't figured it out yet. I have to pick and choose my battles. I know there are going to be certain games that I ain't going to make. It's just the lifestyle. If I'm not there, I'll make sure that my wife is there. My dad didn't come to all my games. I'm not going to sit here and lie. But when he was there, it was special. I knew he was doing things for the right reasons, for my future. I hope that my kids will understand that.

I never thought that I would understand my dad the way I do now. I remember he used to go home and sit in his chair and I could see his 'wheels' were turning, scratching his head, so many pressures. Inevitably being in business you have to eat shit. Sometimes I want to tell some of my employees to go....., but you can't always do that.

What's down time for you?

Lately, it hasn't been at all. I'm working 12-18 hours a day, 6 days a week.

So on the 7th day you rest?

In the fetal position on my couch. (Laughing)

Let's talk a little bit about the show. We've talked to a number of Challenge contestants. Rob Sobkowski being one of them. That's where we were first introduced to you. How did that parlay into TLC TV show?

They (TLC) actually saw Challenge footage. Another competitor from Challenge sent them a tape, coincidentally I was on that tape.

They must love that.

I'm not going to say who, or what happened, but when they sent the tape to TLC and they saw me, they said, "we love him." They called me and asked if I wanted to do a show. I always had an idea for a show and I think it would be awesome. I took a camcorder and ran through the bakery and sent it out to them. The next day I had an offer, they said they wanted me. Boom. This was December too.

That's pretty amazing. I want to talk to you, not necessarily the network and/or the show, about the cake you made for Kerri Vincent. We're very egotistical Italians, that's who we are. What was it like making cakes for her?.

I'll tell you the truth, I'm going to be 100 percent honest. A lot of that, Challenge, is hyped up. She's actually a sweetheart. She and I have a great relationship. That Challenge in particular, was probably my worst Challenge. Reason being, when I went to that Challenge, I already knew that I was going to have a TV show. Coincidentally, I found out the day before the Challenge.

So your mind was in a completely different place.

I remember being in Challenge and preparing, with my brother-in-law who was my assistant, finding out it was Kerri's cake. Honestly, I could give shit. We had a game plan for a cake for a 16 year old girl. When I found out it was Kerri's cake, I should have changed the total design, which I could have, but I didn't care. If that makes any sense. I couldn't focus, I had so much on my mind. It's funny, because the producers of Challenge are the producers of my show. My producer, Art, said to me, "You could tell. You were just zoned out." I really was. My brother-in-law took the reins of that competition. When it came to Challenge, a lot of times I felt like I got ripped off.

It's kind of manufactured

I definitely should have won the "Wedding Cake Surprise." I did a wedding cake and groom's cake. I should have won that hands down.

I remember that Challenge. Your cakes were gorgeous, that groom's cake was amazing.

I am big enough to admit when I should lose. When I did Scar, the Lion King cake, that was no comparison, my character should have won hands down. After that competition, just to give you an example of the type of person that I am, I didn't even know what modeling chocolate was at that competition. Me and Mike became very friendly and he turned me onto it. It's like competing with a handicap. Most of his stuff is done out of modeling chocolate. Once you've played around with it, you can do some amazing things. When you think of the scope of my lion, the whole thing was made out of cake and we covered it in fondant. If I'd a used modeling chocolate it would have looked 200 times better. There were things I took from that and I made myself a better cake decorator.

Challenge allowed you to become exposed to different techniques.

Yes, now I feel very well versed. That's what separates me from a lot of cake decorators. I don't have a style. You give me butte-cream and you want me to do an old fashioned butter-cream wedding cake, no problem. You want me to do a cake with fondant and sugar flowers, no problem. Something whimisal, topsy-turvy, with hand painting on it, a modeling chocolate figure, now I can do them. The people who do modeling chocolate figures, usually don't do sugar flowers. You know how many people can't make a butter-cream flower? I'd say 3/4 of the competitors can't.

You're in a different situation though. There are other, you may not know this, cake makers on TV (Laughter). The difference is that you have a tremendously busy, thriving bakery. You're not a pastry chef in a restaurant. You've got a bakery that's kicking butt 7 days a week. You have the daily retail business going on simultaneously while you are creating cakes. You bring a totally different feel to this.

I agree. The big part of why I wanted to do this was to bring back some respect for the bakers. I honestly feel like I'm a baker. I'm not trying to knock Duff. He's a nice guy. Me and him are two different worlds.

We agree with that. If I'm allowed to ask, because people are going to want to know, and we're not asking because we don't really care. Why wasn't it the 'other' network.

(Laughing) There are a lot of rumors back and forth with that, that they didn't think I was good enough, or whatever. I always envisioned myself maybe on Foodnetwork, because I didn't know much about TLC, but I couldn't have found a better home. I'm not competing against anybody, it's my own game. TLC has put me in the position to be their baker, chef, whatever you want to call it. I'm the only one really. They're an amazing network. It's more of a broader audience than Food. Shame on Food, they had me on these Challenges and they never approached me.

We have nothing bad to say about Foodnetwork, but what I see here with your show is there is much less manufactured and more of showing what is happening.

That's it, you get an Italian bakery in Hoboken as busy as we are, you've got a show man. It's easy. In the past we have always spoken about the shows and any time we said the word cakes, they said, "We have a cake show." Mine is not a cake show, it's about a bakery and has a family dynamic. I think the show shines more because we are on TLC than Food. I mean I watch Foodnetwork shows. I think it's a great network and I know a lot of the people over there. If I wasn't on Challenge I probably wouldn't have gotten the gig. But TLC saw something in me that I guess Food didn't. It's kind of bitter sweet in a sense. We're the number one food show on television and it's our first season. If there was any doubt at Foodnetwork, what am I supposed to say, ha ha.

You've got to have class.

Exactly. You don't want to be a jerk, but listen, we're just doing what we do.

But you do go home and go "ha ha."

You have that in a sense. I don't need anyone to tell me. I've been a baker for 20 years and I see, this is the truth, my niche in the market, there's not a real baker on TV. A full fledged baker. I'm the only one. I'm talking about somebody born and bred. Bakers didn't go to culinary school.

You went to culinary school by being in a bakery making cakes.

That's it. When you're a pastry chef, it's a different mentality than a baker. I've been saying for years that there's not a baker on TV.

I talk to a lot of chefs. Many tell us, "I went to school, came out, got my first job and wasn't prepared for what to do." Technique and actually doing it are two different things.

When you are in the CIA, you have to make your cake as your final project. Come to the bakery and you have to make 500 a week. It's a different type of animal.

How has the show changed your life? Both good and bad, start with the good.

Good, I think I'm helping a lot of people. I think I'm putting bakers on the map. The RBA (Regional Bakers Association of America) is very supportive of me and they are so happy. Even the different suppliers are saying that I'm bringing life back to the bakeries. Letting people know that bakeries are still around and it's a great thing. Kind of like when we were young, we'd go to the bakery. For me to be able to help that, that's huge. Honestly, at the end of the day, all bullshit aside, that's who I am. I want to bring back that sense of homemade, from scratch. I want to get people to not want to go to the big lot stores and buy mass produced pies which might have been sitting in some freezer for who knows how long, with all kinds of preservatives. You pay a little bit more, but inevitably, you get what you pay for.

The personal side, how has it changed you?

I don't have a lot of time with my wife and my children. When I go places I get recognized a lot, it's a great feeling and all, but it's crazy. I'm the type of guy I'll never say no to a fan, shake a hand, take a picture or sign an autograph. Knowing my personality it's tough.

Many people don't know that you have a huge heart for charity. Like most people who have a passion for giving, it's not an accident that you are quiet about it and it reminds us what you said about your dad.

From a young age, here's a perfect example, every night we send cakes to the homeless shelter.

At GGM, I am very much about Good Giving. Tell us why your charity work is so important to you, beyond what your father ingrained?

It's gone to a whole new level. I never thought my autograph or my cakes would pay so much. If the money is going for a good cause, for a cake that I make, how can you say no to that. We do Cupcake For A Cause every year and that's for kids with cancer. How the hell could you not want to help? I cry just thinking about it, it goes right to my heart.

Tell us about Cake for 10. What do you remember most about that experience?

It was weird for me to hear that kids, from Make-A-Wish, wanted to make cake with me, I was, "Holy Shit." There's Jordan, Bon Jovi, I'm just Buddy the Baker. Right off the bat, I'm astonished. It was so amazing to see the joy that I brought to their faces. I didn't do much. I just hung out with them and made a cake with them. That's what life is all about. What these kids have gone through, and they want to spend a half hour or hour with me making a cake? I can't say no to that. Anyone who would say no to that is heartless. Anything I can do, I'm going to do. I'm honored to be part of Make-A-Wish. Kids want to see me, really? I could never say no. My father would kill me. You've got to try and stay humble, stay true to your roots. I am who I am.

Here is your soap box moment. What is it about you that people don't know, that would surprise them to learn about you?

I remember years ago I used to get really mad when I used to watch Challenge, and I'd see people blog about it. People thought that I was arrogant or that I was jerk off. That really bothered me because I know who I am. I am an honest, hard-working, family man. I know I'm not the best cake decorator in the world, but I know what I do, I do well. I've earned my stripes to say I know enough about cakes to get the respect I deserve. I want people to know that I am a family man. I yell and scream sometimes, but it's part of my life. I'm Italian, I'm very passionate. When you see me talk, I talk with my hands, it's a little bit of everything. But I do a lot of good and I'm really trying to help an industry. I want bakers to get some recognition because of what my show does. I want people to go back to making scratch recipes.

A lot of times Buddy, people mistake confidence for arrogance, because of the way we present things, and I'm going to go back to north Jersey here.

You know it, you lived it.

What I applaud about what I hear in your voice is the same thing I live my life by, I can't put my light under a bushel because somebody else is intimidated by it.

You can't. At the end of the day, I know that I'm good. I've been doing it long enough and have seen people's reactions and have made thousands and thousands of people happy with the cakes that I've made. People don't like what I do, what can I say? I know what I'm talking about, I've done it a long time. When you look at our fan base, there is a lot more positive than negative. I guess a lot more people want to see me do what I'm doing.

Our standards are highest for ourselves than for anybody else. I don't think people realize how hard we are on ourselves.

I think in this country we are racing to mediocrity. That can tend to make us harder on the people around us, but we don't expect anything more than we expect from ourselves. My team sees me at 6 o'clock in the morning and I'm here until the cameras are done. It's not like I stroll in, in a suit and tie and throw on my chef coat for an hour and leave. It's not like that. People don't realize that we work day to day, week to week.

I got a request for a robot cake, that had to move like a robot and had two days to do it. I went to the toy store, bought toys, cut them up, to figure out how I was going to do this. We worked from 6 a.m. - 1 a.m. two days in a row, but I figured it out. It sucked, but I did it.  A quote I'd like to do back on that soapbox thing: My favorite part of the show is when I get families who come to the bakery to visit and they tell me Cake Boss is the only show they can sit together and watch as a family. Mom likes it, Dad likes it, the kids like it, Grandma and Grandpa. Families are coming together for half an hour to watch my show. Cause I'm a family guy, that means a lot to me.

And it tastes good.

My dad always said to make an impression on people that is good for you. I'm bringing families together. Mission accomplished.

What are your hopes for the future?

Keep going with Cake Boss. Get bakers recognized out there. I set my goals pretty high. I'm sure the world is going to see a lot of me doing a lot of different things. I want to cook and do other shows, because I can cook too! My idea with cooking, no formal training, like how I bake, the school of hard knocks. When I cook it's that north Jersey, old school Italian, Sunday sauce.

Yea...we know... story of our lives.. 
~

I hope you have enjoyed reading this interview as much as I did doing it. Too many times, TV can give  us the persona, but never really give us a glimpse into the people behind that persona. I hope this intimate look and chat has helped you understand a little but more of the Cake Boss behind the cakes. Buddy has gone on to have that show, Kitchen Boss, as well as Cake Boss, cooking for us all the traditional recipes from his family and childhood and Cake Boss has gone on to be a household name all across America. Like I said in the beginning, it all starts with a dream..based in Tradition...

Bon Appetit, 

Lou

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