What I've Learned

Buddy Valastro a.k.a. Cake Boss

What we've learned? People can get cake-zoned.
IMAGE Michael Harvey Dee
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Celebrity baker Buddy Valastro, known for hosting reality kitchen shows Cake Boss, Kitchen Boss, and The Next Great Baker dropped by our headquarters and allowed Esquire magazine's managing editor Patricia Barcelon to pick his brain when it comes to finding inspiration, getting into a baking zone, and following his father's footsteps.

I think the good outweighs the bad [when it comes to] working with family. We don't always see eye to eye but at the end of the day, nobody is gonna really want to work harder or have the same interests in running the family business so, that part of it, the dynamic is great.

We were blessed with three boys [and a girl] so now it's kind of a role reversal. I grew up in a house where it was all girls and me and my dad. And now it's her and my daughter and all [us] boys. And we terrorize the place. So it's pretty cool.

I was about 11 years old [when my] dad took me to work with him. He never said like, "you have to be a baker." Secretly I think he wanted me to follow in his footsteps, but it was never like, "You're going to be a baker, son."

[My dad] was my idol and I wanted to be like him. He [took] me to the bakery [with him] to show me work ethic. Like what it's like to work, the value of a dollar, the responsibilities you're getting up everyday and take pride in what you do.

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I take the same pride in cleaning a toilet bowl as I do in making a wedding cake.

I’m a perfectionist. I notice everything. And I think that that's what makes me successful because I do dot all my i's and cross all my t's. 

I'm a visionary. And I'm not afraid to try [things].

I take the same pride in cleaning a toilet bowl as I do in making a wedding cake.

I believe that if I try something and I apply myself to it, there's no failure.

When I make cake, I go into what I call a zone. You don't hear nothing, you don't feel nothing and you are just focused. And you stop when you're done. You step back. You look at what you created and it's like, "wow!" It's like a feeling of self-worth. That's why I became a baker. And it's funny because after all these years, and all these cakes, I still get that feeling.

When I bake, I just love it so much. And I forget my problems and I go into that zone and that I step out of it and I still get that feeling of "wow, look at what I created." After all these years and all those cakes.

The first cake I ever made was my mom's birthday cake. My dad wouldn't let me make a cake for a paying customer (laughs).

I started getting good [at making cakes] when I was probably about 15, 16. I don't know why but I was a natural. Once I did it, I was good at it, you know.

Honestly, growing up I had nothing but friends. I always say, you know, I think I was named Buddy because I'm everybody's buddy. 

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I went to like, a vocational school, so you get half a day for school and half a day for cake or baking. But by the time I was 15, I was better than the teacher because I worked in my bakery and stuff like that. So the teacher, you know, used to love to show me off to the principals and his bosses, he'd be all "Look, look what I'm teaching here."

I was always negotiating and wheeling and dealing from a young age. And I just think it's something you're born with. You know that you have a certain value. You bring something to the table, it's just you have to know what [it is] and how to do it. And for me, it came naturally. You know, it's not something that I learned. Something that just kind of like came, and like, it made sense, you know.

I want to have a bakery in every continent. So, that's the goal.


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I couldn't do [any of this] without my wife. She's supportive and she takes care of my kids so I know that they're okay and I could go out and do what I have to do. 

I think our marriage was really tested. I mean, you gotta remember when we got married, I was a baker. I always did well. I was always an entrepreneur, dabbled in real estate, I did different things like that, so you know, I was lucky enough that my wife didn't have to work...Not that she doesn't work, ‘cause she works. Staying home with the kids...I'd rather go to work, all right? Just let me be on the record saying that.

But when Cake Boss came around, I was a regular guy, you know a regular thing and then all of a sudden… Boom! The show's on in 220 countries all over the world. You want to talk about testing a marriage and testing, I mean...It was a rough couple of years.

I'll be lying if I said I'm only doing it for my family, ‘cause I'm not. I mean, that's a huge part of it but I'm doing it not only for my family, for my own self-worth, like to say, "Hey look, look at the stamp I put on the world." You know?

It’s the kids. It's the, you know, it's the little girl who I met in Malaysia the other day who's seven years old, okay? She's got a sister who's got cerebral palsy and she started her cupcake business to try and help pay for her treatments because of my show. It's the little nine-year old Brazilian girl who told me, "You know why I love your show?" I said "Why?" She says, "Because no matter what, you never give up." And it inspires me that I can do anything in this world.

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I love kids. Kids are my weakness. I love kids, I really...I mean, not only my own kids but I just have a soft spot for kids. I feel like I had to grow up really quick. My dad dies when I'm 17, [and I’m] forced into a business... I have to either sink or swim.

My kids Sofia and Buddy really like to bake. Dylan is a little young still. But we have a lot of fun. We bake. There's always cake in my house too. Don't think that ‘cause we own a bakery, like, there's cake in my house all the time. And we eat it. Like, we eat cake.

The secret to a good relationship…marriage or whatever you want to call it, I think is trying to put yourself in their shoes and compromise, you know you're gonna give in and do things that they're gonna like or whatever.

I think that everybody in life needs drive. It's unfortunate that not everybody has it.

I'm a very driven person. And I feel like it's something you're born with. I've got children. And I can already see who has got the drive, who's got the gene, and who wants to, you know, it's gotta be this way. I feel like, if you could master your own drive, you know, sky's the limits. Like that's where anything can happen.

You control your own destiny, you know. And you can make it happen. Look, I'm living proof. I mean, I'm not a Harvard graduate. [But] I have a multitude of businesses and employees and different things and I've done a lot of great things in my life, which I'm proud of. And it's that will, it's that drive to succeed.

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Six months after my dad died and I said, you know what, no matter what I have to do, no matter how hard I have to work, I don't care if it kills me, I'm going to go the distance. I'm going to make this bakery a household name.


Cake Boss: I want [the people who visit my bakeries] to try the Lobster Tail, that's my favorite pastry. It's a flaky, crusted pastry, cream-filled. It's so delicious. If I was going to the electric chair, I'll have a Lobster Tail before I go.

When I bake, it's like walking or breathing [to me]. I don't even think about it. When I pick up a piping bag, it's like it's connected to my arm or a rolling pin.

The art of baking is what I do and what I know. And you can only do it from doing it for years and years and years [of practice]. You wanna learn? You squeeze the bag until your fingers bleed basically.

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Patricia Barcelon
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