For a man who constructs complicated and elaborate cakes for a living, Bartolo “Buddy” Valastro reveals that the modest vanilla cake with French cream and fresh strawberries is his favourite.
“It’s my favourite combo, you know. That’s what I always get for my birthday, it’s simple,” says Valastro during a telephone interview from the United States.
If you have watched his reality TV series Cake Boss, you’d find it hard to believe that Valastro even knows the meaning of simple. There is nothing easy or simple about the monstrous cakes he makes for his clients on that show. So far, he has made cakes depicting a scene in which firefighters put out a burning building, a hot air balloon fiesta, and a rustic guitar to celebrate Willie Nelson’s 80th birthday besides a long list of other out-of-this-world creations for celebrities like Rihanna, Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus.
However, Valastro cites Oprah Winfrey as his most unforgettable client. He made a cake modelled after Winfrey reading a book underneath a big oak tree in her yard. “That’s her favourite thing to do.” Valastro adds: “She was really so nice off camera as she was on camera. She’s really a true model of what I think a celebrity should be.”
The orders get bigger, the cakes get more challenging to construct and you can’t help but wonder how the baker from New Jersey still has so many tricks up his sleeve after two decades in the business. He almost single-handedly turned the tiny Carlo’s Bakery into the success that it is today. His secret? Possessing the same excitement going into the bakery now as he did when he started helping his father at 11.
“I love working in the kitchen. I feel that I’m successful because I love what I do. This is my dream job,” says Valastro.
It is not always about pomp and show when it comes to cakes for Valastro. Yes, he loves a good challenge but to the baker, taste trumps decoration.
“It’s 60% taste and 40% decoration for me. The most important thing is the flavour of the cake. It has to taste good. The second thing is to have the ‘wow’ factor in the way the cake looks. And third is probably the way you construct it because you can make a great cake but if it falls down when you try to move it, then you’re going to have to start over.”
For Valastro, a good bakery is key to making good cakes but the baker is just as important.
“You have to believe in what you’re doing. A good baker isn’t afraid to try new things and experiments with the flavours.”
Valastro also believes that a good oven is essential for a baker – that and also a pastry bag. “A temperature-regulated oven makes for better baking, and I never leave my home without a pastry bag ... although sugar is also important,” he says with a laugh.
As much as Valastro loves to please his clients and believes that the customer is always right, he puts his foot down when necessary.
“If I think that the customer is wrong, I will tell them that the combination doesn’t work,” he says. Often, his clients respect his opinions, but there are also days when Valastro has to deal with tough customers.
“When you know that you have a customer whom you can never make happy, that’s when you say to them, ‘Oh, did you say your date was for so and so, I’m fully booked for then. I can’t make your cake,” he says cheekily.
This is a tough industry and Valastro hopes that aspiring bakers do not get into the business under false assumptions. “A lot of people tell me that I inspire them to start their own bakeries or cafes. However, I tell them that just before they throw in the towel and leave a good job, make sure that they know what they’re getting into.”
Valastro advises budding bakers to take up a part-time job at a bakery before opening a bakery or enrolling in a culinary school.
“It is important to know that this is the field that you want to go into. And once you know it, then go to school. Because in school, you learn the science of baking but when you work in a bakery or cafe, you really learn how to make the stuff because you make it all the time.”
At the end of the day, Valastro wants his fans to pursue their dream like he did. “Just don’t quit a really good job to go into the baking world, and then a year later, be like, ‘What the heck did I do?’,” he says. “So I just tell people to do it slowly and cautiously, but if it’s what you want to do, then follow your heart. I applaud it.”
Cake Boss Season Seven premieres on Aug 12 at 9pm on TLC (Astro Ch 707).
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