Tuesday, November 9, 2010

'Cake Boss' Buddy Valastro's key ingredient: Family

As the star of Cake Boss, Buddy Valastro says, he has had some special opportunities to help others.

A local magazine in Hoboken, N.J. called hMAG arranged to have Valastro grant a wish for a 7-year-old girl who had terminal cancer and wanted to make a cake with him at his bakery.

"She was in a wheelchair and she barely had the strength to pick up the knife," Valastro says. She wanted to make a cake in the shape of heaven because she knew that was where she was going.

She smiled and enjoyed the mixing and baking with him, he says. After she left, Valastro cried.

"That really put life in perspective with me," he says. "I want people to know that life isn't so bad. If you think you have problems, others have worse problems."

When it comes to baking, especially during the holidays, everyone in the family, young and old, should be encouraged to help. But they have to understand: Baking is a science.So says cable TV phenom Buddy Valastro, 33. "If the recipe says measure it, measure it. If it says a cup, it means a cup. You have to read the steps and do the method. And while you're at it, have fun," he says.

The fourth-generation baker speaks from experience. He catapulted to fame as the star of TLC's Cake Boss, the popular cakemaking series now in its third season. It features the antics of his colorful Italian family with their New Jersey accents and saucy attitudes.

They work together at his bakery, Carlo's Bake Shop in Hoboken, N.J., whipping up elaborate wedding cakes, birthday cakes, cupcakes and pastries.

Their specialty: complex cakes that require some serious engineering. Last season, Valastro spearheaded the creation of a NASCAR cake — the same size as an actual car — and recently, he made a cake in the shape of a toilet bowl — and it flushed — for a plumbing company's 100th anniversary.

Today, Valastro is releasing his memoir, Cake Boss: Stories and Recipes From Mia Famiglia, filled with his family history and recipes.

And this month, he's visiting 17 cities doing live shows in which he offers cake-decorating tips and shares family stories (buddyontour.com). He also preaches his message that the American dream is still alive. "I want people leaving my show feeling inspired."

Baking has always been a family affair for Valastro. He gives credit for his success to his beloved father, who owned the bakery before him. Its name comes from the original owner, who sold it to his father.

His dad started bringing him to the bakery when he was 11. "I didn't go to culinary schools. I learned from the school of hard knocks," he says. Now he takes his own kids to the bakery: Sofia, 7, Buddy Jr., 6, and Marco, 3. "My kids love to cook and bake." He and wife Lisa expect their fourth in February.

Valastro encourages parents to teach their children culinary skills. Through cooking, kids learn about teamwork, leadership and work ethics, he says. "Nothing else brings family together like food."

He remembers learning how to make meatballs with his grandmother, who also taught him how to stuff a turkey.

As for his four sisters, mom, brothers-in-law and cousins who work with him on the show, he says: "We may scream and yell at each other, but at the end of the day, we would die for each other. We love each other and work hard."

Many families are like tiramisu, he says. "Tiramisu is many different layers making a complex dessert. A family has their layers and personalities, and if a family works together and gets the best out of each other, you have magic."

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