He's turned himself into a household name thanks to fantastical desserts like the life-sized NASCAR race car crafted from 24 individual cakes or the 14-foot Statue of Liberty confection. (Oh, okay and a half dozen or so Food Network shows.)
But Buddy Valastro was never supposed to be the Cake Boss. In fact, his father, a third-generation baker, expressly forbid it.
Bartolo Valastro (nicknamed Buddy by his American friends) landed in the states from Sicily with neither money nor shoes. Pulling himself up from the proverbial bootstraps he diverted from the bread-making business purveyed by his father and grandfather back in Italy and purchased Carlo's Bakery (so named for original owner Carlo Guastaffero) in Hoboken, New Jersey at 25. A year later he married Mary Valastro and together they created pastries and a family, four daughters followed by little Bartolo Valastro Jr.
"It wasn't until I was six I got my first taste of what my father did for a living. One day I stared up at him putting on his crisp white baker's uniform and announced, 'Daddy, I want to come to work with you,'" the Food Network star shared in a 2011 tribute piece for Guideposts. His dad gave him his own apron and propped him up on a bucket to watch, but made it clear he wasn't getting a glimpse at his future.
"'You are not going to do this for a living,' he'd say in his husky Italian accent," Valastro wrote. "'You are going to college.'"
First, though, he'd get an education in hard work, scrubbing floors, cleaning bathrooms, cracking eggs and decorating cookies. Soon he was making tea biscuits, éclairs, napoleons, even decorating wedding cakes. But his dad still insisted a bachelor's degree, not a bakery job, was in his future.
Then came the devastating diagnosis. Just 17 when his father learned he had lung cancer, Valastro immediately insisted he'd take over the family business. "I looked Dad in the eye. 'I'm gonna work full-time at the bakery,' I said. '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,'" he recalled. "That afternoon Mama drove me to school and we filled out the paperwork for me to officially leave high school. Three weeks later Dad died. He was only 54."
Two-and-a-half decades on, the 43-year-old has fulfilled his promise, turning Carlo's Bakery and the Valastro name into a household name thanks to his 2007 debut on the Food Network Challenge and, of course, the creation of his series, Cake Boss.
Several spinoffs later, Valastro is now competing against another well-known baker, he and Duff Goldman going mano a mano on Buddy Vs. Duff 2. And before you eat up tonight's episode of the series (as advertised, the second go-round of their competition), enjoy this platter of trivia.