The setting is not the original Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken. Valastro and Co. outgrew that space a few years ago and moved production to a cavernous facility in Jersey City.
Now, instead of giant sacks of flour and confectioner’s sugar, the stainless steel prep tables are piled with eggplants and onions.
Valastro wears his usual chef whites, but across from him, a cook frying batches of artichokes in sizzling oil wipes her hands on a leopard-print apron.
She is Gloria Belgiovine, Valastro’s mother-in-law, and she is far from the only Valastro relation slinging pots and pans.
Valastro’s wife, Lisa, is stirring broccoli rabe with sausage and pasta. His uncle Maxim Tubito, of Ridgefield, is offering samples of his wife Laura’s fresh-from-the-oven rice with mussels and potatoes.
Each of Valastro’s four siblings are here, toiling over their own Italian specialties. Also present are various aunts and uncles, all Jersey natives who live within half an hour’s drive of the state’s most famous pastry chef.
Valastro’s mother, Mary, supervises them from her wheelchair–she’s had some health setbacks recently, she says.
The occasion is a test-run of dishes vying to make the menu at Buddy V’s, Valastro’s first restaurant, to open this fall in the Venetian.
“The inspiration for the food is to be like regular home cooking, like the food I eat with my family every Sunday,” says Valastro, offering a reporter a beef, veal and pork meatball he had just fried.
It looks more like a disc than a ball.
“This is how my mother made meatballs when I was little," the Cake Boss explains. "She’d be making Sunday gravy, and these would be my starter while she was cooking. I’d yell, ‘Mom, flatten me one!’ And she would oblige."
Many dishes on the Vegas menu will be named for Valastro family members: Lisa’s Sautéed Shrimp with Cilantro, for example, is named for the chef’s youngest sister, and Gloria’s Fried Artichokes is named for his mother-in-law. Buddy V’s will also feature classics like steak pizzaiola, spaghetti and cannoli.
“I don’t think you can go wrong with anything we’re planning to serve” Valastro says. “It’s home cooking, just like I cook for my own family.”
Not that he has a lot of time to cook for his family these days, given the run-up to the opening of the 11,000-square-foot restaurant, which will offer what a press release calls “commanding” views of the Strip. He opened a branch of Carlo’s Bakery in Ridgewood in February, and other bakery openings are planned.
“I can’t cook every night," he allows, "but I still cook.”
Is he spreading himself too thin?
“I always worry about that," he replies. "But I’m doing this from the heart. I want people to be able to go into Buddy V.’s and get a meal like you have at my aunt’s house.”
“Any aunt.” He’s not naming names.
And with good reason.
The vibe at the cooks’ stations turns out to be more competitive than at first meets the eye.
Belgiovine works with chef Joe Zanelli–one of only three cooks in the bustling kitchen who is not a Valastro family member. He is an employee of Blau and Canteenwalla, the prominent Las Vegas hospitality consulting firm, headed by Elizabeth Blau, that Valastro partnered with to create Buddy V’s.
Sister Lisa creates her dishes alongside her aunt Ana LaForgia. Other relatives, roughly 20 in all, have paired off to produce their specialties.
Then Lisa, asked to name the best cook in the family, makes a bold proclamation.
“I think I’m the best cook," she says. "I’m definitely the best cook of all the sisters."
“I don’t know about that,” comes a voice across the kitchen.
“Hey Buddy, who’s the best cook?" Lisa calls out. "Me, right?”
Mary Valastro raises her eyebrows.
The Cake Boss shakes his head:
“I’m not saying.”Click here to leave a comment