The schooling of Buddy Valastro, the Cake Boss
Here is another in my occasional "Talking Out of School" series of conversations in which people from different walks of life recall their education. Earlier I spoke with Attorney General Eric Holder, musician John Legend , legendary producer Quincy Jones, Zac Efron, and chef Paula Deen, actress Claire Danes, movie director Oliver Stone, and New York Times writer David Carr.
Buddy Valastro is the Cake Boss. A fourth-generation master baker, Valastro runs the now-famous Carlo’s City Hall Bakery in Hoboken, N.J., a 10,000 square foot state of the art facility. There he and his staff of about 100 turn out thousands of cakes and pastries every week, and hundreds of people line up in front of the bakery daily to buy sweets.
Valastro, known for his decorating and sugar art techniques, is the star of the reality show show on TLC called, appropriately, Cake Boss.The show follows Valastro and his staff as they create cakes in all kinds of shapes, including a full-sized race car, and a huge submarine sandwich, pictured below.
When I walked into his office recently on the second floor of his bakery, he was at the window, waving to scores of people waiting outside.
What looks like a huge submarine sandwich, below, is actually a cake made by the Cake Boss, Buddy Valastro, above. (Photos by Madelyn S. Levy)
Q) Are people out there all the time?
A) A lot of the time, and it kills me, because I’d love to be able to say hi to everyone.
Q) I was just watching all kinds of pastries and cakes being made. How many cakes do you make a week?
A) Five hundred to seven hundred.
Q) And how many people work here?
A) I have over 100 employees, working 24 hours a day, in three shifts.
Q) Let’s go back to the beginning, your beginning. Tell me about your background.
A) My dad went to the fourth, fifth grade, and then had to leave school and go to work. Those were the times in which he grew up. He said, ‘I want more for you.’ For me, I want the same for my kids. I want them to have the best education they can. Education is the key.
I have street smarts. I think you are born with this.
Q) Oh yeah, some people have more common sense than others, and that seems to be something they are born with. So, tell me more about where you grew up and went to school.
A) I was born in Hoboken and grew up in Little Ferry, New Jersey. I wasn’t a bad student, or a misfit. I was a B student who never tried. I got mostly B’s and an occasional C.
Q) What were your best subjects?
A) I was very good in math, very good in history. History was always a good subject for me. I have a great memory. One time, when I was a sophomore in college, I had to pass a test. One of my buddies always studied day and night. I left only one day to learn a vast amount of information. I read it all and I said to my friend, ‘Ask me the questions.’ He couldn’t believe I knew it all.
Q) Do you remember having a teacher who most inspired you?
A) I had a lot of good teachers through the years.... The best teacher I ever had was my dad. He taught me to bake, but he also taught me how to be a man.
He came here from Sicily, at 15, with nothing, absolutely nothing. He was from a family of bakers, and by the time he was 26, he had bought Carlo’s Bakery. He lived the American dream. He was a great cake decorator and that inspired me.
When I was about 11, I wound up getting in trouble with my dad. Me and my friends were playing with matches and were caught by the cops. My dad said, ‘Come to work with me.’
I started working in the bakery, and the best part was that I found something I was good at. Instantaneously I knew. The first day I cleaned bowls. Dad wanted me to start at the bottom... I did every job in the bakery... If I didn’t do it that way, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I wouldn’t understand the delivery guy. These are lessons my dad showed me. I got good at cake decorating by the time I was 15, 16.
But when I was 17, my dad passed away. I dropped out of school in junior year of high school and went to work full time. I had to prove myself over and over.
Q) You didn’t go back to school?
A) No, I never went to college.
Q) It sounds like you taught yourself a lot.
A) I’m self-taught in a lot of ways. I have a lot of drive.
Q) What did you learn in school that helps you in your work?
A) Math. We do scaling and calculations all the time. I didn’t think art classes would help, but they did. My first, second grade art teacher would laugh. I was so bad with pen and pencil. But give me pipe and bag and I can do things. I call it going into the zone. I calm myself to where my heart rate slows. I go into the zone, don’t hear anything, forget all my problems, and do my work... It takes so much of me. I give everything I have to the project, and I’m so tired after it.
Q) If you could go back to school now, in what subjects would you want to enroll?
A) I think more art techniques would be helpful. Maybe acting.
Q) Do you have time to read much?
A) I don’t have much time to read or watch TV. When I did watch, it was always the Discovery Channel for science. I like to learn about the planets, and I love history. I like biographies too, to see how people live. I do have my own book coming out Nov. 2. It has 20 recipes but is really a memoir. One of the best stories is how I learned to make one pastry, lobster tails, that my dad did but that I struggled with after he died. He came to me in a dream... and said, I’m here to show you how to do this one last time.’ We worked next to each other in the dream... The next day I came in and was about to do it. It may sound strange, but that’s what happened.
Q) Tell me about your kids. What grades are they in?
A) I have three children. Mario is 3, Buddy is 5 and Sophia is 7. Mario and Buddy are in preschool, and Sophia is in first grade.
Q) Your kids are just starting out in school. Do you have any thoughts about the education system today?
A) Yes. My interpretation of the school system today is that too many kids want to go to college and think they are going to get out and get a great job. The world needs more people like me who want to do a trade. Not everybody is going to get a cushy office job. If your kid wants to be a baker, embrace it. That’s the great thing about America... And jobs in the trades, that’s where high paying jobs are going to be.
Q) No argument there. Everybody knows that when they have to call a plumber or an electrician.
A) Right. People should be as proud to go into the trades as they are in college.
Q) Absolutely. So, let me ask you one more question. You bake for all kinds of clients on your show. There was one bride who was so mean, I couldn’t believe how nice you were to her. But here’s the question: Is there anybody you really want to bake for?
A) I want to do a cake for Bruce Springsteen. He’s The Boss, and I’m the Cake Boss, and we’re both from New Jersey. And I’d love to bake a cake for the president of the United States, President Obama. That would be the best.
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| May 31, 2010; 12:25 PM ET
Categories: Talking Out of School | Tags: Buddy Valastro, Buddy Valastro and cake Boss, Cake Boss, Cake Boss and school, Cake boss and education, Talking Out of School, buddy and carlo's bakery, buddy valastro and cakes, carlo's bakery, carlo's bakery in hoboken
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