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A boss can still be a buddy

“The show begins in two minutes,” said the announcer’s voice through the speakers.

We inched our way through the massive crowd. With music thudding in the air, we managed to ask the teller to direct us to our seats. And there I sat — seat EE 66, chanting, “Buddy! Buddy! Buddy!” with the rest of the audience. The theatre smelled of sugar.

Buddy Valastro, a fourth-generation Italian baker and the star of TLC hit series “Cake Boss,” came to Jacksonville June 5 for a live show at the Times Union Performing Arts Center. And luckily, I was there.

The show began at 7 p.m. with Valastro running through the crowd and up to the stage, where he shot T-shirt cannons. The set mimicked his hundred-year-old bakery, Carlo’s Bakery, in Hoboken, N.J.

“I’m Buddy, and I’m the boss,” said the Italian baker.

The audience greeted him with roars, banners that read, “#1 FAN,” and girly shrieks of, “I love you, Buddy!” You’d think you walked into a rock concert.

Valastro entertained with his cupcake challenges, which he held four times during the show. He invited groups of children, ladies and couples on stage to mimic a cupcake decoration he demonstrated. The person with the best cupcake, as judged by the audience, won an exclusive Carlo’s Bakery T-shirt.

Among the four people selected for the gentleman cupcake challenge, Andy Leverett, a UNF business sophomore and my accompanist, was picked. His cupcake involved designing a rose with piped icing.

“These men barely know how to boil water,” Valastro laughed. “I suppose the competition is fair.”

The audience cheered on the badly iced cupcakes, and when a decision on the best couldn’t be made, Valastro made his contenders dance for the prize. The speakers blared with music. And there it was, men with cupcakes shaking what their mamas gave them — Valastro laughing from the sidelines.

Though Leverett didn’t win, he did bring me back the cupcake he decorated on stage. And my, it tasted amazing. The icing wasn’t extremely overpowering, and the cupcake still felt warm. Valastro said the icing was made simply with proper proportions of butter, vanilla, sugar and lots of love.

For the remainder of the show, Valastro shared different stories from his past — about his family and career.

After being rejected for a cake show from Food Network, Valastro said TLC signed him up for “Cake Boss” instead. The gig earned the 34-year-old top ratings, four seasons, a book deal and two more shows — “The Next Great Baker” and “Kitchen Boss.” He said his business is working on a cake factory that will be able to ship cakes nationally by November.

“Now you won’t have to make a pilgrimage to Carlo’s [Bakery] every time you want a Buddy cake,” he said.

Valastro took questions from the audience while he decorated a wedding cake on stage. He piped the three-tier white cake with beautiful black icing swirls.

The “Cake Boss” production crew filmed Valastro making giant cakes shaped like giant flip-flops, a replica cake of his wife, Parisian wedding cakes and cakes mimicking a cityscape. A little boy from the audience asked Valastro how much his colossal designer cakes on the show cost.

Valastro said the cakes range between $5,000 to $20,000.

“A simple cake with vanilla icing can cost $100 at the bakery,” he said.

Valastro emphasized that his prices for cakes have not risen since the time he took over the bakery as an 18-year-old. He said his father believed a baker should use quality ingredients and charge for it.

The baker also supports giving back to the community through charity. He endorsed the Make-a-Wish Foundation and shared a story about helping a terminally ill little girl by fulfilling her wish of baking with him. Valastro said he continues to work with the foundation.

The three-hour live show managed to pack in fun cupcake challenges, heartfelt stories, dancing men, chocolate roses and, of course, cake. Valastro’s charisma washed into the audience. Valastro capped off his show with confetti and more T-shirt cannons. The day after, my throat was still sore from screaming

“Buddy! Buddy! Buddy!” I can still hear us chanting in unison.

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