There were a couple of summers during college when I worked on an assembly line at a cake pan factory. It was just as boring as it sounds. The assembly lines would work to create and package many different products ... one after another, thousands at a time. The easiest to put together were simple cake pans because all you really had to do was attach a label and cover them with “shrink wrap’ using a somewhat dangerous machine (that broke down frequently and slowed production).
One of the more difficult products that we had to assemble was a cake decorating kit. The kits consisted of a plastic box (like a tool box or a tackle box), several different “piping tips”, a couple of “piping bags”, a “flower nail”, a few jars of food coloring and an instruction booklet. I was usually the guy that they put at the beginning of the assembly line to set the pace. I remember that the other workers would get angry with me because they couldn’t keep up … and tormenting them was the most entertaining part of the job.
I remember, as the kits would go by on the conveyor belt, I would read the instruction booklet and think to myself “I could do that”. After studying the booklet for weeks I decided to challenge myself and, using my employee discount, I bought my very own cake decorating kit. I enthusiastically went about baking and decorating my first cake. I quickly learned that cake decorating is an extremely difficult talent to master and that, when it comes to decorated caked, I was destined to be an end-user only.
Nowadays, I catch a lot of grief at home because I like to watch Cake Boss on TLC. I’m fascinated by the cakes that they make on the program and the drama behind the scenes at Carlo’s Bake Shop in Hoboken, New Jersey. Buddy Valasco, the master baker, is the fourth-generation ringleader of the Carlo’s Bakery family. He seems like a great guy from a nice Italian family that truly loves to bake cakes. I can watch Cake Boss for hours at a time.
It turns out that Buddy and Carlo’s Bake Shop are quite a charitable bunch. Recently, they’ve donated cakes and other baked goods, tours of the Bakery and “meet & greet” sessions for charity fundraising events. Recipients of this goodwill include organizations including The Anita Kaufmann Foundation, STOMP Out Bullying, The RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights and Make A Wish Foundation.
I can’t help but wonder if the folks at Carlo’s Bake Shop ever used one of the cake decorating kits that I helped to assemble. Maybe they learned to master their craft with tools that I helped to create. Could I have helped Buddy Valasco learn to decorate cakes? That’s about as close to a professional cake decorator as I will ever be.
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