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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - With his New Jersey accent, strong devotion to an often bickering family and a bakery steps from the Hudson River waterfront, Buddy Valastro could be aptly cast as the personal baker to "The Sopranos."
But long before organized crime earned its notorious reputation along the docks of Hoboken, Carlo's Bakery was turning out elaborate cakes, pies, pastries, doughnuts, cookies, breads and the Italian dessert staple, the cannoli.
Valastro's cable television show "Cake Boss," which includes his mother, four sisters, three brothers-in-law and other extended family who don't always see him as the "boss," recently began its second season.
He spoke to Reuters about the elaborate cakes they create for occasions ranging from weddings to baby showers and museum exhibits, as well the often heated arguments between family members as they race to meet seemingly impossible deadlines.
Q: Who came up with the idea for the show?
A: "TLC (the cable television network) saw me on different things like the Food Network and asked me if I wanted my own show. I said, 'To tell you the truth, I have a great idea.' The show concept with the whole family was mine. I sent TLC the first tape, it was two or three days and they had an offer. They knew it was going to be good."
Q: What's the difference between your show and the other baking shows currently out there?
A: "My show is about a bakery, not a cake shop. You can walk into my bakery and buy a cupcake. Other shows, you got to make an appointment. You're not allowed to go there. They turn you away. It's a whole different experience. Also, we do 10, 20, 30 times the volume of what those other places do. There's a lot going on, so right off the bat, you're busier and crazier."
Q: On each show, you turn out two elaborate cakes and the time and detail devoted to them is staggering. How much of your business is devoted to that, and what do those big cakes cost?
A: "Ten to 15 percent of the business is those giant cakes, the other big business is wedding and specialty and birthday cakes and whatever. We do anywhere from 300 to 600 birthday cakes a week and anywhere from 40 to 60 wedding cakes.
"Some of those specialty cakes can range from $5,000 to $15,000, depending on how elaborate and what's involved. It comes down to hours, how long it takes, and this and that."
Q: Do you get many outrageous requests that you have to turn down?
A: "I'm not supposed to make erotic cakes. If you understand what an Italian mother is like, you know what I'm trying to say. You got to keep it clean, she's a real holy roller. She doesn't want to promote pornography, she says."
Q: Do you and the rest of your family really argue that much, and how heated does it get?
A: "The family dynamic has been like that for years ... It's like fishing with dynamite: it's going to be fun, but it's not going to be easy. We yell. We scream. We fight. We laugh. It's just part of the gig."
Q: Has there been a downside to all the show's success?
A: "It's great and it's bad. I can show my kids my billboard in Times Square and they're amazed. But in the same breath, I'm always working and I don't get to spend as much time with my wife and kids. That's the only dilemma."
Editing by Patricia Reaney