Buddy Valastro, known on TV as the Cake Boss, told us during a recent interview that he spends about 11 months on the year in front of cameras, filming one of his three shows, which include Cake Boss, a reality show about his bakery which premiered in 2009, and Next Great Baker, a Top Chef-styled baking competition that rewards winners with a job working for Valastro.
But that doesn't mean he isn't still hauling ass in the kitchen. The Boss proudly says he works at least six days a week in Carlo's Bakery, the more than century-old Hoboken specialty bakery where he builds insane cakes. Cakes in the shape of snow globes, airplanes and race cars.
Valestro will take a least a day off from the kitchen for a talk Wednesday, Dec. 5 in the Murat Theatre, where he'll share family recipes and stories, and even ice a few cakes.
NUVO: Can you update us about the damage to your bakery from Sandy and the damage to Hoboken in general?
Valastro: Absolutely. Thank god that in the bakery in Lackawanna, we did not get any water damage. We lost power for about eight days, so we had a lot of loss of product and we weren't able to be open for eight days. In the history of Carlo's Bakery, that's never happened. But we were the lucky ones. There were people in Hoboken that got destroyed. The whole tri-state area got hit pretty hard. There's places on the Jersey Shore that will be re-defined. They'll never be the same again. But, I feel like we're a resilient community. We'll come together and things will get better.
NUVO: So, I like to think of 2006 as the year of the TV dessert explosion, with Ace of Cakes, Ultimate Cake Off, Amazing Wedding Cakes, Fabulous Cakes, and of course your show. What kind of cultural shift happened to make people so interested in cake all of a sudden?
Valastro: I think we take cake to an art level. I think that it's a little bit more than a cake. It's who we are; it's the family aspect. The whole Jersey craze kind of helped things. I think people are interested in what's going on. At the end of the day, there's a lot of things to be intrigued by besides seeing someone making an awesome cake.
NUVO: Last season, your mother was diagnosed with ALS, which is devastating. How did you decide what to keep on the show and what was too private?
Valastro: My idea with going public with it was that at the end of the day, people who saw her would say, "Mary, what's wrong with you? You don't look good." And they would see that she can't walk and stuff like that. I thought that by going public, a lot of people wouldn't ask that question. And, with ALS, the only thing you can do is make people comfortable and pray. And my mom has gotten so much love and support and prayers. I also wanted to help raise awareness for ALS and the families going through it and try and coordinate people and see what's the best care for my mom personally. By going public, everything I just said happened.
NUVO: And how is she now?
Valastro: I mean, as good as she can be. Things are getting tough for her.
NUVO: On a lighter note, you have three separate series, and you're running a business -
Valastro: Four children.
NUVO: And four children?
Valastro: Four children, 150 employees. We do it all. We do a little bit of everything.
NUVO: How do you manage your time? How much time do you get to bake and cook for your family?
Valastro: If I bake at the bakery, that's where I'm baking for my family regardless. If I'm home, I'll cook a great meal for my family. I usually try to take off one day a week, and that's family day. I still have a very good relationship with my children and my wife. My trick is - whatever I'm doing, give it 100 percent. If I'm with my son, throwing the ball or kicking the soccer ball out back, I'm with my him. That's our time. If I'm at the bakery and making a cake, I give it 100 percent. If I'm on the phone with you, giving an interview, you've got me. I just feel like if you focus and just do it, it just gets done.
NUVO: How long is an average line to get into the shop?
Valastro: Well, when the kids are getting out of school, it can be like an hour. We've got a better system to manage our lines and stuff. We're starting to open more bakeries and stuff like that. My expansion plans are coming to fruition now.
NUVO: What do you think about the cupcake craze?
Valastro: Well, to tell you the truth, I was one of the first ones who picked up on it years ago. I'm talking about like in 2002. I've been a big supporter of it; I've been kind of always trying to do more decadent, delicious cupcakes for the bakery.
I'm not into the whole cupcake [as] cake thing. I think, again, no disrespect to the cupcake shows or whatever. I think that when you look at a bunch of cupcakes piled together to become something, you don't get the same effect as a cake. The visual effect.
NUVO: It's easier if you have one bad cupcake to pluck it off and replace it, but if a cake goes...
Valastro: I don't want to say it's easier or not easier, I mean. I don't want to sound like a jerk.
NUVO: You don't want to stir up anything with the cupcake guys?
Valastro: I don't want the Cupcake Sisters (of TLC's DC Cupcakes) coming after me and beating me down.
NUVO: Now, you can shut me down if you don't want to do this. But I'd love to do some cake flavor word associations. I have a list of flavors and if you could tell me what word comes to mind, or what event comes to mind -
Valastro: Do it!
NUVO: Red velvet.
Valastro: Cream cheese!
NUVO: Lemon curd.
Valastro: Fresh raspberries!
NUVO: German chocolate.
Valastro: Chocolate ganache!
NUVO: Swiss roll.
Valastro: Yule log!
Valastro: My dad. I think of my dad. He taught me how to make it.
NUVO: What's special about your tiramisu?
Valastro: It's my dad's recipe. It's so good. We use sweet marsala. It has such a unique flavor profile. I'd put it against anybody's out there.
NUVO: Spice cake.
Valastro: Cream pie!
NUVO: Did I leave out any of your favorites? Or - how about this - if you were going to eat a cake, any cake, what kind of cake would you eat?
Valastro: Vanilla cake, french cream, fresh raspberries and chocolate ganache.
NUVO: Now, you have a new cookbook with a lot of different variations and substitutions you can make. How closely do you stick to recipes when you're cooking? Not baking, which I realize is totally different.
Valastro: Definitely. It's two completely different philosophies. When you cook - a little more salt, a little less salt, whatever. When you're baking, you can't do that with baking powder, you know what I'm trying to say? Baking is a precise science; cooking is more free-form. When you cake decorate, it's more of a free fall - you want to put vanilla, chocolate? Do whatever you want.
NUVO: If you could give at-home bakers one easy tip for improving their cakes, what would it be?
Valastro: (actually shouting) Let it cool off before you ice it!
NUVO: I just moved into a new apartment and I'm working on furnishing my kitchen. What are some indispensable tools that you have to have?
Valastro: You need a turntable, okay? A KitchenAid mixer is a necessity. As far as ingredients-wise, just the basics. Butter, sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, vegetable shortening, vanilla.