Sometimes, meeting celebrities in person can be a disappointment. Not all of them are friendly, and most are not actually the person they portray on screen.
Fortunately, this was not the case for the dozens of people who paid $149 to learn how to design cupcakes from Buddy Valastro Jr. — star of the TLC network reality series “Cake Boss” — on Saturday at the Viking Cooking School in Harrah’s Resort.
Valastro seemed to enjoy talking and bantering with those in attendance. The 35-year-old pastry chef gave them tips on how to decorate cakes, shared behind-the-scenes secrets from his three television shows, and spoke from the heart on subjects ranging from his family to the children he has met through the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
“I’ve learned through the years that ‘Cake Boss’ has been on the air that people come together as families and enjoy the show. And the more crazy the cakes get on the show, it’s my way of saying thank you for letting us into your homes,” said Valastro, who also stars on TLC’s “Next Great Baker” and “Kitchen Boss.” “And when I’m here with you, I’m not thinking about 1,000 other things. You have 100 percent of my attention.”
The class was part of The 2012 Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival hosted by Caesars Entertainment.
Angela Watkins, of Audubon, Camden County, used the event as an opportunity to ask Valastro specific questions about how to improve her baking.
“I started baking cakes two years ago after watching ‘Cake Boss.’ I have no other training, just what I learn from Buddy on television,” said Watkins, 28.
Watkins told Valastro that she was having a difficult time getting darker-colored fondant to stick.
After asking a series of follow-up questions, Valastro offered some sweet advice.
“Try adding more sugar,” he said.
A crowd of people standing outside the Viking Cooking School peered through the windows for a chance to catch a glimpse of Valastro.
Inside the class, however, Valastro had to share the spotlight with his mother, Mary.
Several members of Valastro’s family, including his wife, Lisa, were in attendance. But Mary, who has ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, was seated in a wheelchair right behind her son. And unlike the other family members, the bubbly 64-year-old was not content simply being a spectator.
“Not bad,” she said to an intricately designed cupcake her son showed off. “Enough of that stuff!” she said she demanded from TLC officials when Valastro was talking about a real argument that the network’s cameras captured between himself and his sister.
She talked with pride about her family, joked with her son’s fans and, when she caught a glimpse of a pregnant woman in the crowd, demanded Valastro give her a cupcake.
When her son made the mistake of giving the cupcake to the next person in line, she reprimanded him — to the delight of the crowd — and then brightly serenaded the woman with the hook of Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston’s “It Takes Two.”
Valastro then promptly made a personalized cupcake for the mother-to-be.
“That was awesome,” said the woman, Jessica Nayer, 31, of Philadelphia. “I was just standing in the back. I didn’t expect to become part of the conversation. It was such a great experience.”
Nayer said she bought two tickets to the event for her husband Greg’s 34th birthday because they both are huge fans of “Cake Boss.”
“It’s the best gift I’ve ever gotten,” Greg said.
And when the new addition to their family arrives in January, they will have a unique story to tell.
“The Cake Boss just made a special cupcake just for me,” Jessica Nayer said. “I don’t know whether to eat it or save it!”
The event was only supposed to last an hour, but Valastro stayed long after the 1 p.m. scheduled finish, until everyone left with at least one cupcake and a picture with him.
“At the end of the day, I’m just a Jersey boy and I’m proud of it,” said Valastro, whose show is based in the Hoboken bakery Carlo's Bake Shop, which his late father, Buddy Sr., purchased in 1964. “I’m trying to make Jersey proud.”
Contact Rob Spahr:
Follow @TheRobSpahr on Twitter
Sunday's Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival events
Your Morning Cup: Baristas and coffee experts provide a wake-up to fine coffees and teas from around the world, served with mouth-watering pastries. 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Diamond Club at Caesars, $40
The Gospel Brunch with Paula Deen: Satisfy your appetite for Southern-style dishes — and your soul — with a performance by a live gospel choir. 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Music Hall at House of Blues, $60
The Grand Market & Italian Village (Session 4): Sample your way around more than 100 booths offering fine wines, gourmet foods, beer, spirits and more. Noon to 4 p.m., Grand Ballroom at Bally’s, $55
Frank Pellegrino: Viking Cooking School: “The Sopranos” cast member and chef at Rao’s in Las Vegas will lead a small cooking class for 32 participants. Noon to 1 p.m., Viking Cooking School at Harrah’s, $79
Book Signing with Paula Deen: The Food Network star signs her latest book, “The Southern Cooking Bible,” which is included with admission. 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., Circus Maximus Theater at Caesars, $99