The untold truth of Buddy Valastro

You know him as the Cake Boss, the down-to-earth baker who creates some of the wildest, most extravagant cakes in the country. It's an odd niche, perhaps, but it's one that he's made work beyond most people's wildest dreams. Today, he sits at the top of an empire built on frosting and fondant, but it was a long journey. Let's look at how he got there.

His father immigrated from Sicily, with nothing

While building mile-high cakes might not be a family tradition for the Valastros, baking definitely is. When he sat down with Vanity Fair, he talked about how the entire business is a family affair, and how he was inspired by his father. The elder Valastro (also called Buddy, but actually named Bartolo)immigrated to America with nothing — not even shoes.

Valastro wrote a piece for Guideposts where he paid tribute to his father, who started at the very bottom and saved to buy Carlo's Bakery, the place that's still the heart of the Cake Boss empire. He said he was 6 years old when he first went to work with his father, a third-generation baker who insisted his son wasn't going to follow in his footsteps. But even though he started out cleaning toilets at the bakery, he says it was his father who instilled in him his work ethic and love of the industry.

Valastro's father passed away at 54, just three weeks after his diagnosis of lung cancer, a bombshell that came on his son's 17th birthday. It became clear he was going to drop out of school and run the bakery — and he did.

He was candid about his mother's illness

Carlo's Bakery has been a family affair from the very first day, and it's stayed that way even in the face of all the growth the business has seen. Valastro's mother, Mary, was an important part of that, and fans of the show will know how important she is.

In 2012, she was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. In 2014, Valastro spoke with People on how important the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was, and how mom was doing at the time. She was in a wheelchair full time at that point, but they still had to look at the good things. "You've gotta look at it [the glass] half-full — we've been blessed," Valastro said.

The difficulties were there, too, and he spoke freely about that. Her failing health, the emotional struggles as things she used to take for granted were suddenly taken away, the loss of independence, and the need to rely on others for so much, he says, "it's just a big pill to swallow."

He didn't return to his Mom's bakery after her death

Valastro sat down with People a month after his mother's death in 2017, and talked about how returning to work was exactly what she would have wanted him to do.

But there was one place he hadn't been able to bring himself to go back to just yet, though, and that was the original bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey. He told People it was because, "I know that when I go there, I'll definitely break down. That place has got so much history and that was my mom's spot, that was her store." It was also the place he baked his very first cake at 12 —  an Italian rum cake for his mom.

He also took the time to thank everyone for the massive outpouring of support that had turned the store into an incredible tribute. Flowers and cards were left at the bakery, and Valastro says part of his candidness about her illness was for the benefit of all those people who truly loved her, adding, "I want to thank them for always being supportive of her."

He was accused of being transphobic

Valastro hasn't been completely controversy-free, and in 2012 he reduced Carmen Carrera to tears after an unfunny gag. Carrera was told to flirt with Bellifemine until he asked for her number, then there would be a big reveal that she'd been born a man. Once the episode aired, Carrera's tearful posts lit up social media after the addition of an interview clip where Valastro said, "That's a man, baby."

Carrera was very, very vocal about how improper the label was, and says she specified that before the show was filmed. She posted on Facebook (via Gawker), "People get bullied, beat up, and killed for being trans because of this ignorance." This got even worse when, according to The Daily Beast, Bellifemine tweeted, "It give me a kiss on the cheek." TLC refused to comment, but both Bellifemine and Valastro issued heartfelt apologies. Valastro's official statement read, in part, "… I was wrong to use the words I did. I am a supporter of gay rights and equality, and while I regret this situation and my choice of words, I am thankful to have received this feedback and the opportunity to learn from this mistake."

His struggles with the famous lobster tails

Across the country, the Cake Boss is famous for his cakes. Locals that visit the bakery come for something else, though — the lobster tails. These delicate, French cream-filled pastries have been served up at the bakery for more than a century, and they started with founder Carlo Guastaffero. According to what Carlo's PR team told Eater, making the delicate pastry isn't just difficult, it's frustrating enough to make a grown man cry.

There was never a question it was going to stay, though, and Valastro wrote in Guideposts it was one of the hardest things he ever had to master. He constantly worked at it, and constantly failed. It was his father's specialty, but when his father passed away he still hadn't mastered the pastry more formally called sfogliatelle. After spending an entire night struggling with them, he prayed.

That night, he says, his father appeared in his dreams and went over mixing and stretching the dough. When he woke up, he headed to the bakery, and made the lobster tails just like his father had.

He can't draw

When Valastro's sister, Lisa, answered eight questions for TLC, she spilled the beans on something pretty surprising. Looking at the incredibly artistic cakes Valastro and his team produce, you'd expect him to be super artistic. It almost goes without saying, but surprisingly, Lisa says he can't draw. "He can decorate, but he can't draw," she told them, adding it was her responsibility to take the vision he described and put it down on paper for the rest of the team. She says she's always wanted to be an artist, and her talent works to fill in the gaps where his disappears. Who would have thought?

He believes in experience over formal education

The tragic, untimely death of Valastro's father left him little choice but to drop out of school and take over the family business, and that's given him a somewhat unique perspective in a time when a college education is highly valued by parents and employers alike.

He told the Houston Press he'd had no choice but to step up and learn everything he needed to know to run a business, and even though his formal education stopped, his experience has made him more than capable of talking shop with anyone. "There's a business method and education they don't teach in school, that you learn from being on the job and dealing with things," he says. "In school, you learn to make five cakes, so now you're a cake genius? Come to the bakery and do 1,000 fondant layers in a week, [...]. You learn, you know?"

He even suggests working at a bakery or in a commercial kitchen before heading off to school, because that's the only way you're going to know if it's a real fit for you. That's something they don't teach in school, and he says it's something more people need to know.

He apologized for his run-in with the law

In 2014, Valastro issued a heartfelt apology to ABC News, after it was reported he was arrested for DWI. Not only had he been caught allegedly driving while intoxicated, but he had apparently insisted he was a good guy, and said, "You can't arrest me! I'm the Cake Boss."

He apologized on Twitter, too, and fans were cautiously supportive while reminding him just how dangerous his actions were. He went on to say that he pled guilty to the charges, "because I wanted to make this right", and when he was later asked whether or not he had tried to use his celebrity as a "Get out of jail free" card (via Extra TV), he apologized to the police department and said that wasn't his thing. According to him, he had gone to a business dinner, had a glass too many, and was wrong when he thought he was all right to drive. He had his license suspended for 90 days, paid a $300 fine, and fully admitted he was in the wrong.

He took the high road with Duff Goldman

Celebrity feuds aren't rare by any means, and in 2012 there was almost one between Valastro and Ace of Cakes baker Duff Goldman… but Valastro wasn't going for it. Goldman didn't pull any punches when he launched the first round of insults, telling New York's Metro paper he considered it an insult whenever anyone compared him and his work to Valastro.

OK! asked Valastro about it, and he was nothing but courteous. "If he wants to be mad at me or be a hater, that's fine. At the end of the day, I don't have anything bad or derogatory to say about him. That's not my style — that's not who I am. I wish him all the best, and all the success in the world." When pushed further, he even said it was possible he was just having an off day, and that everyone should just give him the benefit of the doubt. That's how you end a feud.

He believes everything in moderation

Working in the food industry, weight gain seems almost inevitable. But Valastro says there's a simple secret: everything in moderation. "Eat a cupcake, not 15, you know?" he told Vanity Fair. He also says there's no reason why you shouldn't enjoy a cake every so often, and adds avoiding foods you like because they're fattening is no way to live.

His most expensive cake cost $30 million

Paying $30 on a cake is acceptable, if it's a special occasion. How about $300? For an extra-special occasion, maybe. But what about $30 million?

According to MarketWatch, that's the price of the most expensive cake he's ever made. It was created for a New York socialite named Devorah Rose, and she commissioned it for a 2011 gala. It was so expensive because it was studded with diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, and rubies, because why not?

If that's making you wonder how much one of his "regular" cakes is going to set you back, the answer to that varies. A base model will start at a few hundred dollars and run up from there. If you're looking for something complicated — or something with pyrotechnics — you could be forking over a crazy high amount. Most of the cost comes in labor, and the more complicated you get, the more expensive it is.

That $30-million cake wasn't his favorite though. Valastro says (via Parade) that honor is held by his 12-foot-tall, 7,000-pound Transformer cake.

He's had his bad fails, too

Valastro told the Michaels Blog he's lost count of how many cakes he's baked, but says the number is in the thousands. Not all have been perfect, and the next time you have a baking fail, just remember his biggest fail was the complete collapse of a carousel cake he had made for Atlantic City's Steel Pier. While there are some fails that can be fixed, that one couldn't — and all he could do was apologize.

He says it's not all about perfection, either. "Don't let yourself get frustrated if you don't get it right away," he told Michaels. And (via Parade), he's also said there's no secret aside from practice, and "[...] it's going to taste good even if it's a little lopsided". He says it should be about coming together with family, sharing the final, finished product, and enjoying the process.

He's not offended by what happens to his cakes

Valastro's creations might look too good to eat, but seeing the alternative is even worse. The internet was in an uproar in 2014 when, according to The LA Times, a 400-pound cake made for Chicago's Field Museum was rather unceremoniously deposited into a nearby dumpster. The man who drove the forklift documented the whole thing for Reddit, prompting the Cubs to issue a statement on how disappointed they were about the disrespecting of the cake.

Valastro was mum at the time, but two years later he spoke with The Chicago Tribune and they asked him what he thought of the whole thing. He said he didn't hold any grudges, and had no ill will toward the museum, who had dumped the cake instead of serving it because it had been sitting out all day. He's said he doesn't get upset over what ultimately happens to his desserts, as long as the client is happy. "[The Cubs] loved the cake," he said. "They felt bad those pictures of the dumpster came out, but what can you do?"

He'd rather stay home for a family dinner than go out

He's been the Cake Boss for a long time, and when he became the Kitchen Boss, it was easy to be skeptical. With all the long hours, all the travel, and all the attention his bakeries need, how could he possibly have time to get home and whip up a full meal for his family in time for dinner?

People says part of his secret is that he just doesn't like to go out to eat. He said he would rather stay at home and set up shop in his own kitchen, be joined by his four kids and his wife, and put together a home-cooked meal. It also helps that he not only has a fully kitted-out kitchen, but a second industrial-sized fridge in the garage, along with a freezer. It's tradition, he says: "All Italians got a refrigerator in the garage, that's what we do."

It's not just Italian cuisine, either. He told Good Housekeeping that he's great at barbecuing… but not at things like laundry and dishes, saying he grew up in "an old-fashioned Italian household with four sisters who did everything." His favorite times are having dinner together as a family for some good, food-centric family time.

The first cake he ever made was for his mom

Everyone has to get their start somewhere, and who is more deserving of a special cake than Mom? According to what he told Parade, during his earliest days in the bakery his father wouldn't let him practice on cakes that were being made for a paying customer. He needed to get practice elsewhere, so he decided his first cake was going to be a special birthday surprise for his mother.

"I was about 12 and it was an Italian rum cake," he said. "It was a little crooked, but she loved it." How sweet is that?

Working together hasn't changed his relationship with family

If you've ever worked with family, you know how challenging it can be. It's even more difficult when the entertainment world is involved, but according to what Valastro and his brothers-in-law told Business News Daily, working together hasn't impacted their relationship in any negative ways.

Joey Faugno, one of Valastro's brothers-in-law, echoes Valastro's well-known sentiments of how well the family really gets along. "Working in a family business is unlike anything else. You fight and yell, and then you sit down for a meal. We always joke about that, but it's true…. We spend eight to 10 hours every day at work and then hang out with each other at night. I feel lucky…"

Valastro agreed, saying he feels blessed they've been able to share the success they've worked so hard for. Everyone has their specific, designated roles, everyone does their job six days a week, and at the end of the day, they're still family. It's a formula that works for them, and it definitely helps that they invite everyone around them into their family.

He wasn't the Cake Boss until the show happened

Valastro wasn't always the Cake Boss, and in fact, he didn't want to be the Cake Boss at all. When he spoke with Baker's Journal in 2015, they asked him where the nickname had come from. He admitted that not only was it strictly a creation of the show, but he also said it had been a bit of a tough sell when he first heard it.

"I was skeptical at first," he says. "I didn't want to come off like a jerk — like I was better than everyone else — but it shows who I am in a true light." Needless to say, he's come to terms with the idea of being the Cake Boss, and now, he wouldn't have it any other way.

He has savory restaurants, too

There's a nasty sort of rumor that suggests you're either a baker or a chef, but Valastro cemented his role as both when he opened Buddy V's Ristorante. The second location of the restaurant opened at the Sands Bethlehem Casino Resort in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, alongside restaurants owned by Emeril Lagasse. When The Morning Call spoke with him about everything that went along with opening the doors to a second place, he said the spirit remains the same — a good meal chosen off a menu with something for everyone, affordability, and service that makes guests feel like part of the family. When he was asked why he decided to open restaurants in addition to his bakeries, he simply said, "Why not?"

He says he jumped at the opportunity to cook his family's favorite meals on a scale that more people could enjoy, a format that's following in the footsteps of his Las Vegas restaurant, appropriately located in the Venetian. They were a long time in the works, and Valastro told Eater it was a 3-year labor of love to get those first doors open in 2013, and since, he says he's strived to make everything perfect as he knows he's under close scrutiny.

He gives back

As big as his business has gotten, Valastro insists on doing some of the same charitable giving they've been doing for years. In addition to donating zeppoles to Jersey City's Saint Joseph's Church, he also maintains a tradition of donating bread every June 13 to the St. Francis Church in Hoboken. The occasion is the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua, one of the church's most popular saints. His feast day is typically celebrated by blessing and sharing loaves of bread, representing generosity and community.

That's not the only time he donates his hard work, either. When he spoke before a crowd at Vernon Hills (via Patch), he was asked what happened to all the cakes from Next Great Baker. They all went to good use, and Valastro says everything gets donated to homeless shelters. The cakes you see thrown away? They're fake.

The one thing he wishes people knew about him

D Magazine came right out and asked Valastro what he wished interviewers would ask, and his answer was more about what he wished people knew about him. He says he wished people knew he was just a normal, hard-working guy, that he was "all about family, all about the American dream, believin' in this country and doing the right thing." He says he also wishes people knew how much work went into his business, and how hard it was to do everything he does.

When he visited Vernon Hills (via Patch), he went with a similar message. He wanted everyone to know the American dream was alive and well, and he was proof. Work hard — and work a lot — and you could achieve anything. Most importantly? "You've got to go to work every day and love it."