I was channel-surfing a few weeks ago when I came upon a reality show, TLC’s Cake Boss. And I was mesmerized, unable to stop watching.
The show centers on Buddy Valastro and his century-old Carlo’s Bake Shop in Hoboken, New Jersey. An award-winning fourth-generation baker, Buddy is the mastermind behind the operation and oversees a staff, most of whom are family.
Buddy, 32, is husky, kind of cute (in a little-brother sort of way), extremely talented. And very high-strung. When catastrophic events occur, which is often, Buddy yells in a high whiny voice, sending most of the guys running for cover. Some stay and take the heat, though, and one very big baker yells back. (I suspect he is one of his brothers-in-law.)
Buddy is constantly tackling ornately complicated themed cakes, like a flower pot cake, a super hero cake, a circus cake for Britney Spears’ 27th birthday, a smashing red wedding cake with intricate gold trim. And some of his cakes were in wedding scenes in The Sopranos.
He drapes fondant that ends up looking like silky cloth over layers of wedding cakes; "quilts" fondant, and is constantly placing sugar flowers, butterflys and all kinds of things over layer after layer of one cake or another (they are always making several at a time). “I kinda go into a trance when I’m creating a cake,” he said, “I can see it in my mind.”
But Buddy does not go into a trance when dealing with “Stretch." A tall, thin boy with weird hair, Stretch delivers the cakes. “You better get this cake there on time today,” Buddy yells as Stretch heads out the door carrying a big cake, “Or else!”
Stretch says nary a word. He just skids off in the cake van, bumping over one pot hole after another (there are many pot holes in New York; my head hit the ceiling of a taxi in Manhattan once, and for a while I thought I had a concussion!).
Stretch pressed on, and he arrived on time. But when he opened the door, one side of the huge cake was smashed. (You should have seen the look on the poor boy's face.) A couple of bakers were sent to repair it, but not before Stretch caught hell from Buddy again.
On another day, Stretch delivered a huge cake one day early. “What’s this?” the hotel doorman ranted on Stretch’s arrival, “What’s this?"
The doorman's rants sent Stretch and the cake back to the bakery, where he caught hell from Buddy again. “How many times have I told you to look at the slips,” he squalled, “Look at the slips!”
I don't know how much of the show is staged, but it is certainly entertaining.
Last Monday night’s episode, Weddings, Water and Whacked, was hilarious. Buddy spent days on a huge roulette table cake for a local businessman who resembled The Godfather. He feared he might get whacked if the cake was not up to their standards. So he and two of his bakers rode alongside the huge cake in the back of the van as Stretch nervously transported them to their destination. (They made it, by the way, and The Godfather seemed happy with it.)
And then a bitchy bride-to-be, unhappy with the lovely wedding cake Buddy had made for her, hauled off and smeared red, blue and green frosting all over it! (I must admit, I have occasionally had the childish urge to slap the top layer off a wedding cake or dip both hands into the punch bowl at some formal function. So it was weirdly satisfying to see her ruin that beautiful cake!)
“When I’m decorating,” Buddy says, “I’m a happy guy.”
I'm glad he's happy. But I do wish he would lay off poor Stretch.