*This post was originally published in The Aquarian Weekly.
Have you ever tried a lobster tail? Not a real one, but the Italian pastry confection filled with sugary, creamy delight? If you haven’t, then you need to call the Boss—the “Cake Boss,” that is. Pastry chef and baker extraordinaire Buddy Valastro will make you an offer you can’t refuse.
Valastro, who operates Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken and stars in TLC’s Cake Boss, holds this particular Italian pastry close to his heart. The Carlo’s Bakery recipe and technique were pioneered by his late father, Bartolo “Buddy” Valastro Sr., and kept secret. That is, until he came to his son in a dream to teach him how to make the lobster tail, “the old-fashioned way,” Valastro says.
Valastro, who has worked at the bakery since age 17, is knee-deep in a sweet family affair. The bakery operates with him at the helm, and a whole lot of sisters, brothers, cousins, nieces and nephews dispersed throughout, baking, decorating and serving customers.
TLC premiered Cake Boss in April 2009, and has since aired four seasons. The success of the show led to the spin-off competition, Next Great Baker, in which bakers compete for a cash prize and an apprenticeship at the bakery.
Now, the Valastro family is bringing the dream that patriarch Buddy Sr. had to life, taking their delightful confections across the country, with a 30,000 square foot baking facility in Jersey City, and retail locations coming soon. This holiday season, Valastro is out on a 22-city Homemade For The Holidays Tour, a family style live show where he’ll demonstrate his technique and host a friendly audience decorating competition.
Valastro dusted the flour off his hands to talk about a day in the life of the “Cake Boss,” his recently released cookbook and how he learned how to make that delicious lobster tail. The conversation is below:
Congratulations to you and your family expanding the business and shipping across country. How does it feel to be fulfilling a lifelong dream that both you and your father had?
Seeing things start to come around has been really special because at the end of the day, it started years ago as a vision and dream. And to see all the things that were put together to make this happen, it’s so special. Now we’ve got the factory open and we’re going to start opening retail locations. It’s really awesome, and really special.
I’m trying to do things the way my father did—do old-fashioned things, the old-fashioned way, but also help the economy by creating jobs. I employ 170 people and it’s only going to grow from here. So it’s cool that I’m doing my part there, and helping bring families together with the show. It’s nice to see people appreciate the baking and what we do.
You make the best lobster tails in the game (disclaimer: I’ve tasted many a lobster tail in my day). Is it true that your family struggled to replicate your father’s recipe after his passing—until he came to you in a dream?
Yes, we did. It wasn’t so much the recipe as it was the technique. My dad did it all the time and it’s definitely the hardest Italian pastry to do. So he came to me in a dream and went through the process with me. Fortunately when I woke up the next morning I went to work and I was able to do it. Sometimes when I tell the story I get chills, because it was one of those amazing things that happened.
We still make the lobster tail the same way—the old-fashioned way. Even with our growth, we never changed it.
It was your appearance on Food Network Challenge that catapulted you and the bakery to fame with your spin-off TLC show, Cake Boss. What has it been like becoming a household name, and now one of the most sought after bakers in the Greater New York City area?
To tell you the truth, it’s kind of been a whirlwind. It’s been awesome. At first I did it because I thought it would help the business and help it grow and accomplish what I wanted to do, but as time went on, I saw that it was bringing families together, and showing positive things, and helping people in the industry, so it’s become so much more to me than it was.
Back then it was, “Hey, this is my shot to get on tv and promote the bakery” but now, you know what? I’m a dad, too. I want to make content that’s on tv that I can sit down and enjoy with my children—clean fun in a good light. It’s weird. I never thought that’s the way I’d be thinking about it, but that’s what we do now. The show became so much more than it ever set out to be, so that’s really cool.
You recently released your third book, Cooking Italian With The Cake Boss:Family Favorites As Only Buddy Can Serve Them Up. What made you want to share your family recipes?
At the end of the day, I consider myself a baker, and not a chef. I feel like I’m a really good home cook, learning from my mother and father—I’ve been surrounded by all these great cooks my whole life. So I put together some really good old school recipes, but ones that you won’t be afraid to make. God bless some of the chefs that are on tv, because I think they’re amazing, but sometimes you watch them cook and think, “I’m not going to make that in my house. I’m not going to spend five, 10 hours doing it. If I want that, I’ll just go to their restaurant and enjoy it!”
I wanted to [create recipes] that are realistic, where you can just go to the grocery store, pick up ingredients and be able to make good food. The book is a lot like my cooking show was—straight to the point, very easy and casual family style cooking. I don’t want people to be intimidated by reading it. But look, a lot of the cakes that we make, just realistically, people are not going to be able to make. I look at myself in a different light when it comes to the baking world. But in the cooking world, anything that I cook, I feel like other people can do. The recipes are not that hard—you’ve just got to do it.
What can fans expect this season during your Homemade For The Holidays Tour?
It’s funny. The show started out because I did a keynote speech at a college, and after I spoke, my agent said, “Wow, you’re really motivational. A lot of these chefs go up on stage and they just go and talk.” So she booked me to go and talk. As it was coming closer I thought, “I don’t want to just go and talk, I want to do a little more—maybe have some music, interact with the audience, and have a little fun with it.” That’s how I came up with the show. I did 100 of my old shows and I thought, “It’s time to do a new show.”
Christmastime is my favorite time of the year, and the holidays are all about family and getting together, so I put together a great holiday show, set to holiday music. I’m going to go up on stage and actually create some fondant cakes that are easy enough to do at home. So I’m going to show you little tricks you can do to your average cake to make them into a Cake Boss-style cake.
After I do that, I’m going to call people on stage to compete to see who takes the cake. So I’ll make three to five different cakes up on stage and have little challenges in between. That’s where the show gets funny. Get a couple of people up there challenging each other. It could be a dancing contest, Cake Boss trivia or an edible rose-making contest—you don’t know what it’s going to be. We’ll mix it up and keep it fresh.
I’m also going to talk about how the holidays are in my house and give a little insight into what a Valastro Christmas is like, as well as a little behind the scenes look into Cake Boss and what’s going on in my life. It’s going to be feel good—something you can take your children to. You’re going to get to know me a little bit more and what I believe in.
This interview was conducted prior to Hurricane Sandy. You can catch Buddy Valastro on Nov. 26 at Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre, Nov. 27 at Philly’s Kimmel Center, and Dec. 16 at Newark’s Prudential Hall at NJPAC. For more info, go to buddyvalastro.com.