Buddy Valastro has somehow managed to conquer the world of foodie television while expanding his family’s business and remaining an all-around nice guy. Best-known from TLC’s Cake Boss, which debuted in 2009 detailing life at Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey, Valastro has parlayed his TV success into multiple shows (Kitchen Boss, Next Great Baker and the new Bakery Boss) and successful new locations and spin-offs of the bakery his parents have operated since 1964. He even opened a bakery at sea earlier this year, a collaboration with Norwegian Cruise Lines.
Now Valastro is getting into the restaurant business, and what better place than Las Vegas? Buddy V’s is set to open October 7 at the Venetian, in the Strip-fronting, second-level space formerly occupied by First Food & Bar. He sat down with the Weekly recently to explain the vision behind his homey Italian restaurant and how he connected with Las Vegas-based restaurant guru Elizabeth Blau to put it all together.
How often have you visited Vegas while working on Buddy V’s? This is the fifth or sixth time now, but there’s been just constant communication for a long time. So many pictures going back and forth for picking out colors and little details like that. The other night I came in late—I had been filming in Dallas, like an 18-hour day and I was just exhausted—and I got to my room at like 11:30 at night, but I just had to come look at the restaurant. I came down here all by myself and sorta snuck in, and I was standing at the window looking at the Vegas Strip and I just couldn’t believe it. This is like a dream come true for a kid from Hoboken. You just feel like you made it. I called my wife even though it was four in the morning in New Jersey because I just had to share that feeling with her.
Have you spent a lot of time in Vegas prior to this? Of course, everyone comes to Vegas, and it’s everything that I like to do. Vegas is a no brainer for me.
How did you begin to develop this restaurant? It started out about three years ago. See, I love cooking, but I don’t feel like I’m a chef, just a really good home cook. And I know how to operate a business; I’ve got six bakeries. But that’s a different story. I needed to find someone with the right expertise who could put it all together.
I met Elizabeth [Blau] because I wanted to find the right restaurateur to partner with. We looked at a few locations closer to home but didn’t find anything, and then I came out here to film Cake Boss and met Mr. [Sheldon] Adelson and his family. They’re such an amazing family, tight-knit, hard-working, and I felt we were cut from the same cloth. We sat down for an hour and he told me his story, and I told him mine. We hit it off. Then I was kind of kidding and I said one day I want to have a restaurant in Vegas, and I think I planted the seed. All the stars aligned. And we couldn’t ask for better partners. And to say I have a restaurant in the same place as Mario [Batali], Joe [Bastianich], Emeril [Lagasse], Wolfgang [Puck], these guys I idolize, it’s very surreal for me.
How would you describe the food at Buddy V’s? It’s homestyle Italian cooking from scratch. I want you to come here and feel like my grandmother cooked for you, that there’s a little old lady in the back rolling orecchiette for you.
Your business and your image is so tied into that feeling of family. How do you transport that vibe to Las Vegas and install it in this restaurant? Well the big elephant in the room is that I am the cake boss, I can’t deny that. We want to embrace that but not scream it, and if you look at the decor, the little rolling pins and whisks and cake pans, the design team did such an amazing job with that. I also wanted to pay tribute to the culinary rock stars of my life, my grandma and my dad and my mom and my wife, my mother-in-law and my aunts and my sisters. When we were training the chefs how to do everything our way, we flew them all out to New Jersey and had a two-day cook-off, and it was so fun to watch my little old Italian aunt yelling at these seasoned chefs, No, you gotta use this pan! or No, don’t do it like that! And they were all, yes, Auntie, yes Auntie. It was great. But that’s really where the inspiration for all this comes from.
There are some signature items at the bakery that you’re known for, like the “lobster tail” cream puff pastry. Are there similarly essential menu items here? Oh yeah, 100 percent. It starts with my wife’s eggplant and then my mom’s Sunday gravy, which is what I’ve been eating every Sunday from when I was born, basically. Then there’s the veal parm chop, a whole chop, which is the way I love to eat it, then to the steak pizzaiola and the spaghetti carbonara done the traditional way. To me, the simplicity of Italian cuisine is what stands out, using fresh ingredients and not complicating things.
What’s your favorite dish? I’m a big Italian guy, bro, you know there’s no such thing as one dish. When we cook at home, there’s always the pasta and the main course and a salad and everything. That’s just how we cook and how we eat, and we want to bring that here.
But you know, the more I’m here and I see this place, I realize that what I wasn’t thinking about before is this is a great place to just hang out, look at the view, maybe have a cannoli and a couple of cocktails, or maybe even get some music on and dance a little. The more I see it, the more we can do here.
Do you know how to make your mom’s Sunday gravy or is she keeping the recipe a secret? I absolutely know how. If you talk to my mom, she’ll admit that I’m a better cook. My dad was actually the better chef in the family. But everything is totally inspired by what she made every week, just with our own little flair in it. She puts the lamb neck in the Sunday gravy, and a lot of people might ask What the heck is lamb neck? It’s the most tender cut, just falls off the bone and it’s so tender and juicy, and it gives the sauce it’s special flavor. That’s what makes it taste like my grandma made it.
But anybody who’s Italian will come in here and have the Sunday gravy and they’re gonna like it but they’ll always say their mother’s is better. Of course they’re gonna say that! But they’ll know that we’re cooking from the heart here.
How do you manage to balance new, demanding projects like this one with everything else that you’re doing? I’m always thinking about what’s next, that’s just the way I’m wired. But if I’m with my son out kicking the soccer ball, he’s got 100 percent of me, everything I got. If I’m making a cake, it’s 100 percent. Whatever I do, I stay focused on the task in front of me. Get it done, then on to the next one.