Buddy Valastro's Transformation Is Seriously Turning Heads

When Buddy Valastro first stepped into Carlo's Bakery — the location of his popular show "Cake Boss" — he was six years old (via Guideposts). Watching his dad work the dough, to him, seemed like magic. Ever since, Valastro's life has revolved around cannolis, cakes, and cookies. When circumstances hauled Valastro onto the throne of Carlo's Bakery at 17, the young baker had no other choice but to be ready with his butter knife.

Referring back to the lessons taught by his dad in his childhood, and leaning on the support given by his entire family — who are also the staff at the bakery — including Valastro's mother, four sisters, two brothers-in-law, and his wife, Valastro succeeded in turning an ancient bake shop (started in 1910) into a hot Hoboken hub. Hot enough to have a portion of the street around the bakery renamed "Carlo's Bakery Way." What helped was the mass viewership of TLC's hit show "Cake Boss," which gave viewers a peek into the life of the fourth-generation baker as he pushed the limits of what a cake could look like.

His life has been largely an open book. Everything from his fourth child's delivery to a holiday trip with family — and the serious hand injury that threatened Valastro's career — have been recorded and available on television. Those who have followed his journey know that it's peppered with some controversies and heart-aching losses, but is largely a cluster of sweet celebrations. Here's Valastro's transformation in a nutshell.

Buddy Valastro never wanted to be a professional baker

Buddy Valastro's parents already had four daughters, and hadn't planned to have a fifth child. Nevertheless, when Bartolo Valastro Jr., aka Buddy Valastro, was born March 3, 1977, they were giddy with happiness. Now they had a son who would carry forward the family's name. Valastro's dad was a third-generation baker from Italy who had moved to the U.S. as a kid, and had to spend his childhood and teen years working at Carlo's Bakery to provide for his family. Valastro's grandfather, though a proficient baker, was not much of a family man, Valastro wrote in his autobiography, "Cake Boss: Stories and Recipes from Mia Famiglia."

Valastro's father wanted a different life for his kid. He insisted that Valastro shouldn't have to follow his footsteps working long and odd hours at the bakery. Valastro recounted his dad's words in an essay on Guideposts: "You are not going to do this for a living ... You are going to college." No one expected Valastro to be a fourth-generation baker. For one thing, he performed poorly at his school art projects. "With a few strokes of a pencil, Dad could sketch out the most intricate, beautiful decorations for a wedding cake. Me? I had no artistic ability. Zero," he wrote on Guideposts. Despite that, he was deeply curious about his dad's work, and loved the smell of bread and the whirring of machines in the bakery. 

He spent the weekends at the bakery as punishment

Of his childhood in Little Ferry, New Jersey, Buddy Valastro recalls spending hours outside with his gang of friends — playing all kinds of sports like football at the local boots' club and roller hockey on the streets, and biking around town. At the age of 11, Valastro and his friends thought making a bonfire in the woods would be fun. Their little adventure came to a hard stop when the cops showed up, and told their parents about their little escapade.

Valastro's dad was livid, and as a way to keep his son out of trouble, established a new rule: Valastro was not to go around with his friends during the weekends, but spend it at Carlo's Bakery — which, in hindsight, laid the course of Valastro's life (via "Cake Boss: Stories and Recipes from Mia Famiglia").

On the first weekend, Valastro's job was to clean the bathroom, something he hadn't expected his dad to have him do. But discipline is a tough lesson, and Valastro's dad wanted him to learn it well. He slowly graduated to fetching butter for the bakers and cracking eggs. But it was worth it as he got to watch his dad make three-tiered wedding cakes and cathedral-shaped church cakes, which made little Valastro itch to do wedding cakes as well. But it would take another five years at the bakery for his dad to trust him with that all-important task.

At 17, Buddy Valastro had to drop out of school to run his dad's bakery

As Buddy Valastro's 17th birthday neared, he had more than one reason to be excited. He had finally mastered how to ice wedding cakes, did well in his baking classes at Ridgefield Park Junior Senior High School, and was a few days away from owning a white 1994 Mitsubishi Sports Car. Life was good, until it wasn't. On the day he turned 17, Valastro got his driver's license and drove to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York only to have all the excitement thwacked by the news that his dad was dying of lung cancer.

Though his dad's dream was to see him as a college graduate, Valastro knew it was more important to prioritize his dad's bakery. Right there at the hospital, he made up his mind that he was going to drop out of school and take care of the business, per "Cake Boss: Stories and Recipes from Mia Famiglia." He recollects saying, "I'm going to make Carlo's a household name, like you always dreamed, I promise. I'm going to make you proud, Dad. Just get better" (via Guideposts). Valastro quit school the same day. Three weeks later, he lost his greatest teacher and dad, Buddy Sr.

Getting the lobster tails right was a big milestone

Lobster tails — the delicate, flaky pastries filled with French cream — were a classic at Carlo's Bakery for years (via Eater). For the Cake Boss, though, it was just a monstrous challenge. "No matter how hard I tried — and I tried and tried and tried — I could not make sfogliatelle, also known as lobster tails ...," he writes in Guideposts. The trick is to get the dough layer as thin as a parchment paper without ripping it. Valastro regretted not taking enough notes about the technique from his dad while he was still alive. Just seventeen and at the helm of a bakery business, Valastro dealt with the hot pain of his dad's loss, and the frustration of not being able to get customers their order of lobster tails.

"Almost every night I'd demand of God, How could you take away my father? How can you expect me to go on without him? How?" he wrote. Until one night, he claims his dad taught him how to work the dough step by step, in his dreams. With the dream still fresh in his mind, Valastro recalls going into the kitchen, playing back in his mind what he saw, and executing it step by step to get a perfect bunch of lobster tails, just like his dad's. "From then on it was like Dad was an angel on my shoulder helping to guide me," he says.

He got married at the age of 25

In his late teens, Buddy Valastro had little time and space for anything else but baking. "... I was so obsessed with baking that I would come to the shop after school, pulled there by an almost magnetic force," he writes in "Cake Boss: Stories and Recipes from Mia Famiglia." But a casual outing with his cousins turned into a life-changing event for Valastro when he was 22. He got to connect with Lisa, who would go on to become his wife — Lisa was his second cousin's best friend and someone he had known growing up.

They got married a couple of years later, in 2001. Now with four kids and two pooches, theirs seems to be an ideal love story with zero fights (via People). Although, the journey had its own challenges.

Lisa married Valastro before he became the Cake Boss, and it took a lot of adjusting on her side to have her life publicized before thousands of people. "I was never on camera before, I was never in the TV business. I didn't know what to expect. All of a sudden you wake up one day and there are 15 camera people and sound people listening and looking at every single move you make," she says in an episode of What's Up, Cuz? But over time, Lisa grew to like the camera, launching a YouTube show and appearing in a ton of other television shows including "Dancing with the Stars."

Buddy Valastro's claim to fame was TLC's Cake Boss

When Food Network called Buddy Valastro in 2004 to be part of their "Food Network Challenge" series, Valastro dusted off his white coat and set off to Georgia to film the show. He did not win the first five challenges, but then brought home a $10,000 check for the Battle of the Brides challenge (via "Cake Boss: Stories and Recipes from Mia Famiglia"). By then, Valastro's life had changed in some ways.

Firstly, he had gotten his first taste of fame — people had started recognizing him on the streets — and secondly, he badly wanted to make a show documenting the everyday lives of the staff at Carlo's Bakery. Working with a team that includes his four sisters, in-laws, and cousins can be nothing but entertaining. Valastro was convinced, but Food Network gave a negative nod, as they already had Duff Goldman acing it with his cakes. While one door closed, another opened for Valastro.

Besides appearing on the Food Network, he showcased his skills in the "America's Wedding" series on the "Today Show," and made a grand circus-themed cake for Britney Spears on "Good Morning America." His fine fondant skills were duly noted by Andy Strauser, director of Talent Development and Casting at TLC, who gave Valastro a chance to do the show he wanted. The pilot of "Cake Boss" was a hit, and the rest is history. The show premiered in 2009, and ran till 2017.

Buddy Valastro expanded his empire

"Cake Boss" was a huge success, with about 2.3 million people watching it by the end of Season 1 (via Hudson Reporter). Fans queued up outside the store, sometimes having to wait for six hours (via NY Daily News) to pick a box of lobster tails and cannolis. The bakery had been operating out of the one single Hoboken location for 100 years, and Valastro realized it was time he expanded. In 2011, Cake Boss Café was opened in the Discovery building in Times Square, and over the years Carlo's Bakery added branches in Florida, California, Texas, among other states (via Carlo's Bakery).

For a while, Valastro even partnered with a family-run wholesale manufacturer and distributor of baked goods to mass produce his cakes for grocery stores. Later, the bakery decided to stick with Goldbelly for nationwide delivery of their desserts.

Anyhow, while "Cake Boss" spawned its own spin offs such as "Kitchen Boss," "The Next Great Baker," and "Bakery Boss," the cannoli king went beyond his pastry perimeter to launch full-fledged restaurants in three locations (via San Antonio Business Journal) — of which only the Las Vegas one remains open. Valastro even tread some strange territories by introducing a line of pet treats and launching a production company in partnership with the executive producer of "Cake Boss," Art Edwards.

He broke the record for the most expensive cake ever made

Buddy Valastro has created many over-the-top cakes, like that cake which made Bumblebee edible, or the yummy NASA space shuttle which also did an adorable blastoff. All those were precious for sure, but not in terms of the money that went into creating them — especially if you compare them with a certain diamond-studded cake that Valastro created for the New York socialite Devorah Rose. The cake, per Market Watch, was bejeweled with "diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires” worth a whopping $30 million. If you stripped them off, all that remained was a plain vanilla cake, intentionally made bland to let the ornaments have their moment.

The cake, which was made by Valastro in a 2011 episode of "Cake Boss," besides leaving the audience slack-jawed, also broke the previous record for the most expensive cake — previously held by a $1.65 million-dollar cake made in Japan (via The Rich Times). Valastro does get a kick out of building cake aquariums and toilets (one that seemingly flushes!), but he can be trusted to do a normal sheet cake too. As per Market Watch, it could cost as little as $100 — that is, if you don't want your cake to have any moving parts or precious stones.

Some incidents tainted his popularity

In a certain episode of "Cake Boss," Buddy Valastro offended TV star Carmen Carrera by mockingly calling her a man, despite knowing she identified herself as a woman. Valastro thought it would be funny to prank his wife's cousin Anthony Bellefemine by having Carrera flirt with him and then later reveal that she was born a man as soon as things went forward between the two. Only, it was far from funny — Carrerra took offense, and wrote on Facebook, "I need people to understand that I KNOW I was born male and not ashamed of it. I wouldn't of cared if they said I was born male or USED TO BE male. By calling me a 'MAN' promotes ignorance and makes it ok to call transgender women, men ..." (via Gawker).

Valastro was quick to apologize to the LGBT community. "... I am a supporter of gay rights and equality, and while I regret this situation and my choice of words ..." he said (via The Daily Beast).

Just two years later, in 2014, Valastro had another mustard stain on his name — this time, an arrest for DWI. According to ABC News, Valastro resisted the arrest by playing the "Cake Boss" card: "I had a couple drinks. You can't arrest me! I'm the Cake Boss." Of course, it didn't matter to the policemen how neatly he layered cakes. Valastro was arrested, his driver's license was suspended for 90 days, and he was fined a total of $300.

In 2016, Buddy Valastro did a show with his four kids

Traveling with four kids in one RV for three weeks can seem daunting. Add to it the prospect of a TV crew filming the entire journey and most would likely pass, but not the Cake Boss. In fact, what he saw was an opportunity for a show. "... you put four kids and my wife in an RV and it is just TV magic," he told Life Of Dad of "Buddy's Family Vacation." Their little vacation to the Southern States of Alabama, New Orleans, and South Carolina among others was filmed and cast on Food Network. Of course, there was "fighting and screaming and some craziness," but as Valastro told Life Of Dad, "... I would have it no other way".

For Valastro, his kids are his best friends. When the series was shot in 2016, Sofia and Buddy Jr. were around 13 and 11 respectively, Marco was 9, and Carlo was 5. Valastro, as reported, would often take his kids along on his travels to different countries, and used his time off from the bakery to go fishing or bake chocolate chip cookies with them. He said, "I have a lot of accomplishments. I am not bragging, but I have done a lot of good stuff, but my biggest accomplishment is my kids and my family."

Buddy had a difficult time going back to Carlo's Bakery after his mom's passing

Buddy Valastro's "Cake Boss" had introduced his entire family to the public, and fans had grown to love Valastro's mom, Mary Valastro, enough to fill the front of Carlo's Bakery with a heap of bouquets at the news of her passing in 2017 (via The Delish). Following her death, Valastro could not, however, make himself go back to the store for at least a month. "I haven't been back to Hoboken since she died and 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," he told People.

Mary Valastro, who had been a regular in TLC's "Cake Boss" since its launch, took a backseat in 2012 after she was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease — a degenerative disorder that would affect her motor skills and eventually render her incapable of walking. Buddy, seeing first-hand the effect ALS can have on a person's health, set up a foundation in his mother's name to raise funds for research about the fatal disease (via Delish). After she passed away at the age of 69, though Valastro got back to taking care of the business, "Cake Boss" didn't return with a new season until 2019.

When Buddy came back to television, he had lost oodles of weight

Though Buddy Valastro's fans were shut away from the goings-on at Carlo's Bakery for two years, they rested knowing that the Cake Boss was taking care of his health. Photos that surfaced on social media showed Valastro in a slimmer and fitter version. Responding to the curiosity of his followers, Valastro quoted the Optavia program as the secret to his new and improved lifestyle (via People). 

Before his fans could wonder if it was an ad for the diet program that preaches eating six small meals a day as one of the ways to lose weight, Valastro clarified, "I'm not being paid to say this and it should be noted that I think every body is different and you should do whatever suits you but this is what I'm doing and I'm very happy with the results so far!" Valastro had lost 35 pounds (via People).

When "Cake Boss" was finally back with new episodes in 2019, it was just like the old times, except the show had now moved to Discovery Family, a much smaller network than TLC, and featured a leaner Buddy Valastro.

He had a serious arm injury that took over a year to heal

In September 2020, Buddy Valastro's right hand got stuck in the bowling pin machine at his home in New Jersey (via USA Today). A one-and-a-half-inch metal rod reportedly impaled his palm in the region between his ring and middle fingers. It remained stuck for close to five minutes, until his sons sawed through the metal rod and freed his hand. This was Valastro's worst nightmare turning real. As per his 2010-published book, "Cake Boss: Stories and Recipes from Mia Famiglia," he truly believed that his "hands were touched by God." He wrote, "I also developed a phobia, which I still have, that something would happen to them. As a result, I take crazy-good care of them ..."

Around the time of the ghastly accident, Valastro's new season of "Cake Boss" had just released, and he had just won the second season of the reality show on Food Network "Buddy vs. Duff." Everything had to be put on hold, as the accident had rendered him incapable of even folding his fist. It took at least five surgeries for him to feel some sensation in his hand. "These fingers, here, for like a year, I just felt tingly and asleep, but now the nerves start to regenerate and it actually feels back to normal," he told the "Today Show" in October 2021 (via USA Today).

Buddy Valastro is now back in action

Buddy Valastro has come a long way from not being able to hold a knife steady in December 2020 (via Delish) to winning the Season 3 of "Buddy vs. Duff" in 2021 (via Food Network). Meanwhile, a whole show narrating every step of his recovery was launched as a TLC Special, "Buddy Valastro: Road to Recovery" (via The U.S. Sun). While those who saw him in the "Buddy vs. Duff" season finale were convinced that the Cake Boss was back in action, he also confirmed on The Rachael Ray Show that he is 95% recovered.

Meanwhile, Carlo's bakery made its first foray north of the United States in January 2022. The bakery opened its first location in Canada, a 3,200-square-foot store in Port Credit, Ontario (via Narcity). Though Valastro's cakes have been available in Canada via vending machines since 2019 (via Daily Hive), it was the first time the bakery opened a new branch in the land of maple leaf.