If you've ever watched TLC's "Cake Boss," you know its star Buddy Valastro has a way with baked goods. That is, when he's not bantering - or bickering - with his extended family.
From gorgeous tiered wedding cakes to novelty items festooned with comic book heroes, fairy tale castles or mini-football fields, to biscotti and other Italian specialties, Valastro and his cohorts at Carlo's Bake Shop in Hoboken seem able to do anything sweet.
The Boss' growing empire includes his best-selling memoir, "Cake Boss: The Stories and Recipes of Mia Famiglia," and a soon-to-be-launched mail-order business.
He appears Saturday, Nov. 26, at the Tropicana Casino Resort in Atlantic City in support of his second book, "Baking with the Cake Boss: 100 of Buddy's Best Recipes and Decorating Secrets" (Free Press).
Ahead of his visit, Valastro e-mailed with At the Shore about being a bakery "star," the next season of "Cake Boss" and whether he still has time to wield a pastry bag.
Question: What do you have planned for the Trop?
Answer: There's a lot of audience interaction - I like to bring people up on stage to teach them some of my tricks. Baking and decorating are two things I am so incredibly passionate about, and I love to share that with people.
Q: How comfortable are you in front of a live audience?
A: Performing the live show is not much different than being in the bakery. I have a structure for the show, but so much of it is about interacting with the audience and having a good time with them.
At first I would get nervous, but now I enjoy getting out there and sharing my story with everyone.
Q: Speaking of the TV show, what's in store for the fourth season in January?
A: We're finally in the new Cake Factory, which is a big change. The cake requests are getting crazier - we're having a lot of fun in the new building because we have the space to make even bigger designs.
Q: How is it running a business while juggling your media duties?
A: I'm so fortunate to be able to rely on my family to help me run Carlo's. Everyone has their responsibilities, and even though we fight, we work well together.
Right now, our biggest goal is setting up the Cake Factory and beginning to ship our items domestically. We're working on the final phase of testing, so I'm excited to bring my products to fans across the country.
Q: Did you always know you would follow in the family business?
A: I'm a fourth-generation baker, baking is in my blood. I remember coming to work with my dad (who died when I was 17). It was really special that he could teach me everything he knew about the baking business. He was more than a father - he was a mentor. I always wanted to work hard to make my dad proud.
Q: How much time do you spend baking these days?
A: I am always in the bakery - no matter how busy I am, I will always be decorating cakes. Unfortunately, I don't always get to be involved in the whole process of every cake. I have an amazing staff that I hand-picked to help me run the bakery.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration for your designs?
A: The funny thing about me is that I can't draw - the ideas I have for cakes come straight from visions I have in my head. My team and I have been working together for so long that we're just on the same page.
Q: Do you have a favorite creation?
A: I enjoy creating all these crazy cakes, but there is something so special about a classic wedding cake.
I love mixing traditional hand-piping with modern updates.
When you think about it, the cake is really the focal point of a moment that will be photographed by everyone. That puts a whole new perspective on it.
Cake Boss shares secrets, recipes
In his new book, "Baking with the Cake Boss," Buddy Valastro tries to demystify his craft.
"A lot of times, people ask me for little tips and tricks of the trade, so I decided to write down all of the little things my dad taught me about baking and decorating," he says. "I wanted readers to have a step-by-step guide. It's perfect for beginning bakers."
One of the keys to becoming a successful baker, Valastro says, is to start small and work your way into more elaborate creations.
"I always encourage people to pick a simple recipe and try it out," he says. "Baking is a science, so there is nothing to be afraid of. Even the best bakers have had a lot of practice, including me. I prefer making everything from scratch, but I'll forgive you if you need to use a box mix or packaged pie crust."