Buddy Valastro got his first look inside his restaurant Buddy V's, opening at the Venetian on Oct. 7 for lunch and dinner, last week after arriving in Vegas at 11 p.m. He snuck into the space, even through it's his, to see how the former First Food & Bar was converted into an Italian-American restaurant that's brightly lit with an open floor plan. Now he's working hard with his partners Elizabeth Blau and Kim Canteenwalla on the menu, recreating recipes from his family's wheelhouse of favorites. A mussel dish tastes just like his aunt's version. The calamari needs more lemon. The octopus is perfect. He even uses a slice of focaccia to wipe up some of the juice from the octopus. "I do this all the time at home," he says.
The star of Cake Boss is rather unassuming, laid back and shows no signs of nerves, except when asked what his relatives might think of one of their dishes not making the menu. Surprising, since he's opening a restaurant, a far cry from the bakery he runs with his family in Hoboken, N.J.
Here Valastro talks about how he came to open a restaurant in Las Vegas with Blau and Canteenwalla, some of the desserts and dishes that are must-tries and how starring on Cake Boss changed his life.
Why did you decide to open an Italian-American restaurant instead of another bakery?
I'm sure that will potentially follow.
I've been wanting to open a restaurant. Me and Elizabeth and Kim we've been working together almost three years. We've been looking for spaces, just coincidentally when I filmed some shows at the Venetian I got to know the people of the Venetian. Everyone wants a bakery from me. It's a no brainer, but I said I know food, I have these great recipes, I had a cooking show and I said Elizabeth's a great operator and having the right operator with my vision, my flair, I think it's a recipe for success. We looked in New York, we looked in New Jersey and this was the first one, the great place to do it. So just coincidentally it's here, so if it wasn't here we would have opened a restaurant somewhere.
It's not just my name on the restaurant, and then I get out of here. I have great facility in New Jersey where I built a culinary kitchen, because I always knew I was going to do cooking classes, but I have 500 million different things going on.
When it comes to food I really want them to be inspired by my family, that's why it was important to bring all the chefs out to New Jersey.
The only scary thing about opening a restaurant is I know I'm in the public eye; the binoculars are like "this" on me, I'm going to be scrutinized. It makes us work even more, every detail perfect. If you came over to the Valastro house, this is what you'd eat. And I feel that all the fans from all over the world, that's what they want from you. They want to feel like you're part of your life.
Sunday morning is great in my house, especially when football starts. I wake up and can smell the gravy. My wife makes a big pot of gravy. I go down and have my coffee and I don't eat breakfast on Sunday because we eat at one o'clock. The game goes on, the sauce has been cooking since seven, eight o'clock. You can smell the meatballs frying up. It's so inviting for the family and I want to bring that here. Because I know there's a ton of people who resonate with that. Every Sunday we went to my grandmother's basement and she cooked for 50 people or whatever. That what I want when people come here and have that same experience.
Giants or Jets fan?
Giants of course.?
Since you're known for over-the-top cakes, what will be the most over-the-top items on the menu?
We didn't finalize it 100 percent, but we're definitely bringing cannolis that we make at Carlo's Bakery. We are, we are. ?
My favorite dessert in the whole world is the lobster tail. The lobster tail for this restaurant we are making extra large. It's going to be for two. It's going to be baked to order. It's the most crispy, delicious mouthwatering, creamy wonderful thing you'll ever eat.
Elizabeth Blau: Addictive.
BV: If I would tell anybody to try anything when you come in, you got to try this. It's for two. Vegas is a couples thing, so I want to make something sweet for two. It's the only place in the world you can get it is here.
?Cake Boss has certainly shaped your career. Can you tell me a little about how your business has changed since the show launched in 2009?
I always dreamt of growing my business. I would have but I wouldn't have dreamt of the pace I'm doing now. Initially doing Cake Boss for me was about business. A good platform. I didn't realize what else it was going to do.
What I mean by that is you know how many families when I travel tell me this show brings together? For half an hour each week? How many say, "You inspire me to bake," or kids saying, "I want to be a baker?" How many from inside the bakery industry who say that since your show goes on, it helped my business. People want cakes like you made.
It became so much more. The funny thing is, it's in 190 countries around the world. It's been viewed by over a billion and a half people and it does well wherever it goes. All the nationalities over the world, the one thing that my show speaks about is family. We may not be able to agree on politics, religion, but the one thing that I think is near and dear to everyone's heart is family and I think that's what resonates. And I think that's why people gravitate to it.
So now, my career, after seeing that, I want to do more good family content. I feel like I understand it, and now I'm trying it with Next Great Baker and Bakery Boss. I can expand the whole deal. I can bring families together and I'm not doing in a derogatory way. I can honestly sit here proud and say that I and TLC were not trying to put out trash TV. We're trying to put out good content, so that's been my mission.
When I make these giant cakes, I do it to show people that anything is possible. Especially children. One thing that my dad taught me is that in this world, if you believe it, you want it, you strive for it, you can make it happen. So when those cakes are driving me nuts, you think it can't be done, or impossible, I will never, ever give up. There is never a time when I think that I'm not going to be able to do it. And that message, people see that and believe in themselves. I take what I do very seriously, the TV stuff and I'm really really proud to say that. And after all these years of baking and cooking, I still love to do it
My wife will call me a pantry cook. I'll never forget. We were in bed one night, she was pregnant. Its 10.30, and throughout the night, 8, 9 o'clock, "You want to eat?" "You want some food?" "Oh, I'm not hungry." Finally I'm in bed, I'm lying there snoring she's like, "You sure you don't want something?"
So I go downstairs get her something to eat. I go look in the refrigerator, there's nothing there. Zero. I go in the pantry start pulling things out. I'm going to make pasta because it's the only stuff in there. There was little bit of heavy cream, little bit of prosciutto and a bag of frozen peas. And I made this cream sauce with prosciutto and it was to die for. She ate the whole dish. She said, "That was most delicious thing I ever ate, but I hate you, because you came downstairs with nothing down here. You didn't have a plan and you throw something together with anything."
That's really who I am in the kitchen. Without being fancy. Work with what you have. You've got to be resourceful.
Buddy Valastro and Kim Canteenwalla [Photo: Chelsea McManus]
How did you meet Elizabeth and Kim?
My agent said, "I have good friend out in Vegas."
When I first met her she didn't really know who I was, she knew I had a TV show. So we met for lunch, started talking. I said I'm looking for an operator because I have an idea for opening a restaurant. I heard so many good things about you. She said in a month or so I'm in New York, so is said, stop by the bakery.
EB: It was January, freezing cold. The train to Hoboken was all full of families, reverse commuting from New York, and I said to Kim, "I think these people might be going to the bakery." They all seemed like they were going to Disneyland they were all so excited. So I get of that train, and I'm so disorganized. I said let's just follow these people. Three blocks in freezing, freezing rain and I said, "What the hell is this guy selling?" And honestly, people wanted to kill us when we walked past the whole line.
And there's nowhere to wait. It's packed. It's like Elvis. He opens the door and it was like people had to call the cops, umbrellas are flying.
Our philosophies are the same. I run a small business. He runs a small business.
BV: And the work ethic. We have the same work ethic. Having all that in common, having eaten in restaurants they've run and inspired, I knew it would be a perfect partnership.
EB: And he liked our desert. And he loved our ice cream.
Now you have this new location, are you going to make a reality show about Buddy V's?
BV: I don't think we'd make a reality show about it. We will defiantly film things. I plan on coming out here. This is my baby; I want to do things here, different events.
Did your grandmother have two kitchens?
She did. Upstairs and downstairs and the one upstairs was never used, always the basement kitchen. When you come here, I want you to taste the food, and I want you to remember your grandmother. Maybe my grandmother.
Since we're most familiar with your cakes, what would you suggest as a must-try dish at your restaurant?
The gravy. That's what I had basically every Sunday since I was a kid. I'm very proud of that. Lisa's eggplant is to die for. The capollini. The steak pizzaiola is my father's recipe. The mussels. My grandmother's meatballs.
When I was a kid, I would roll meatballs with my grandmother and my mom and then she would fry them up. At 11 o'clock I'd be hungry, she flatten one out for me and I'd put it on a piece of bread. I was dying and gone to heaven. My favorite. Little fried meatball patty, so good.
How much input did you have in the look of the restaurant?
I had a lot. The design was a no brainier. These guys grew up in same area I did. We had one meeting; I explained the whole vibe, but didn't want it to be screaming Cake Boss. There was not a lot to argue with. We were so much on the same page. I would love to tell you that it was painstaking and hard, but it really wasn't. They were aces to work with. I'm sure they are really proud of it and I am too.
Was there any drama when it came to deciding which recipes to choose?
I got to say, surprisingly everybody was cool. "If you use, use it, if not?" When they get here we'll really see. My aunt's going to come and yell at the chefs, "But you changed it!" A little Italian lady's going to be yelling at Kim and all the chefs.
Will you bring your family tour to Vegas?
The new book is coming out first week of November. The tour coincides with book tour.
How it happened, I wound up doing a speaking engagement. I wasn't nervous about talking, but I didn't want to go on stage and talk for an hour and a half, so I created a cake decorating interactive show. A live theater show set to music. I come out like rock star, I scream and then I cake decorate. Tricks and tips that I think will make you a better cake decorator. I do about five different cakes on stage and every time I finish a cake I pull people up on stage and make them compete to see who wins the cake. It could be trivia, hula-hoop contest, a baking thing, cannoli filling challenge, you name it.
Then I tell the story of how I became Cake Boss and what's going on in my life right now. I take Q&A from the audience. The finale is a family pie-making relay. Get a little dirty, have a little fun; we've done over a hundred shows in the last couple of years. If I'm going to be traveling it's great to interact with the fans.
· Family Affair: Buddy Valastro Works on His Family Menu [~ELV~]
· All Coverage of Buddy V's [~ELV~]