Cake Boss takes the slice: Buddy Valastro’s Ultimate Pizza Party

At the 2022 Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival, pizzaiolos across the city showcase a breadth of crust, sauce and cheese.

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Manasa Gudavalli

Giorgia Caporuscio, owner and chef of Don Antonio, places pizzas into a brick oven. Right: Buddy Valastro, “Cake Boss” and owner of Buddy V’s Ristorante, at Fornino in Brooklyn Bridge Park during New York City Wine & Food Festival’s Ultimate Pizza Party. (Manasa Gudavalli for WSN)

Roshni Raj, Culture Editor

At Brooklyn Bridge Park on Oct. 15, pizzaiolos from across the city participated in Buddy Valastro’s Ultimate Pizza Party to showcase their extensive selection of pizza — a variety that even Little Italy couldn’t match.

Valastro is best known for starring in the TLC series “Cake Boss,” which documents the operations of his family-owned business, Carlo’s Bakery, in Hoboken, New Jersey. In 2013, he started serving pizza at Buddy V’s Ristorante at the Venetian Resort Las Vegas, and has recently opened a line of pizza ATMs on the Las Vegas strip. Valastro, however, got his start making pizza much earlier — growing up in a big Italian family, his two favorite things on the planet are cake and pizza.

Sofia and Buddy Valastro smile and pose with a woman in a white top for a selfie.
Buddy Valastro and his daughter, Sofia Valastro, pose for selfies with fans. (Manasa Gudavalli for WSN)

“My wife’s dad owned a pizzeria, and we’d date on Friday nights,” Valastro said. “I would leave the bakery at six or seven at night, finish my day and then I would go help him at his pizzeria. So I worked in a pizzeria — kind of — I used to do the oven and cut the pies up. That was a lot of fun being able to work beside my wife and help her and her family business because she always helped me in mine.”

Since its founding in 2007, the New York City Wine & Food Festival, organized by the Food Network, has increased awareness of hunger and nutrition issues, raising more than $14 million for its charitable partners. God’s Love We Deliver, a nonprofit that supports New Yorkers unable to cook for themselves, partnered with the festival and will cook and home deliver more than 2.8 million free medically tailored meals this year for 9,000 New Yorkers.

The Ultimate Pizza Party offered a more intimate experience than some of the other, grander-scale events at the Wine & Food Festival. From the classic New York slice to the authentic Neapolitan, pizza came hot off the outdoor brick as the pizzaiolos interacted with customers. Valastro said the pizza world is less about competition and more about sharing tips within the culinary community.

A man in a gray long-sleeved shirt reaches over to a woman's plate. She wears a black coat with sunglasses.
A couple shares a slice of pizza at the New York City Wine & Food Festival Ultimate Pizza Party. (Manasa Gudavalli for WSN)

“It’s a smaller network than you think,” Valastro said. “People think bakers don’t get along or don’t talk, but the pizza community that I’m involved in, it’s such a comradery of pizzaiolos and business owners. It’s more about how do we help each other out, or ‘I found this special blend’ or this new oven or this new technology.”

Aurelio Petra — chef and co-owner of the Rosie Pizza Bar in Bushwick, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary — has already gained popularity for his pizza in the community. Born and raised in Naples, Petra believes we should play around with pizza styles and explore new toppings.

“We tried to make something controversial — that was a big issue with pineapple on pizza — so we were like, ‘OK, let’s do it, let’s go for it,’ and we came up with this recipe,” Petra said. “I don’t want to just be the single pizza, that’s why it’s called ‘No Apology.’”

Although pineapple on pizza has been around since the 1960s, it still divides pizza enthusiasts. Petra paired Li Hing Mui, a Hawaiian dried plum treat that can be eaten in seed form or sprinkled on fruits, and shaved ice as powder, with dehydrated pineapple and imported Calabrian ’nduja, a spreadable pork sausage, for his “No Apology” pizza.

Forcella La Pizza Di Napoli’s “Pickle Me Up” was just as innovative or controversial, depending on which side of the debate you’re on. It featured dill pickles, brussels sprouts, basil, buffalo mozzarella and a secret aioli sauce that chef and co-owner Giulio Adriani wouldn’t disclose.

For traditionalists, Don Antonio’s heavenly slices are reminiscent of authentic pies in Italy. Owner and chef Giorgia Caporuscio argues that the best pizza is simple, which is why her “Pizza della Nonna” stays true to the Neapolitan style she grew up with. Pizza della Nonna has a tomato sauce base, coated with a blend of fior di latte mozzarella and ricotta salata, and sprinkled with roasted eggplant, basil and olive oil. 

Other popular traditional pizzas included the classic Margherita by Robert Cucco’s Table 87 and truffle by Kesté Pizza & Vino, owned by Caporuscio’s father, Roberto Caporuscio. Ereka Vetrini — a TV host and food blogger — raved about Kesté’s truffle cream pizza with a four cheese blend and Italian truffle salami, as well as Fornino’s honeynut squash burrata and herbs pizza.

Two chefs in white t-shirts and one in a gray baseball cap add toppings to pizzas.
Fornino’s chefs make pizzas for their booth during the event. (Manasa Gudavalli for WSN)

Even if you can’t get your hands on an authentic Italian slice anytime soon, Valastro said even bad pizza isn’t really that bad. Alexa Santos, a senior producer at Feedfeed, chimed in about the evolution in her taste.

“Eating Papa John’s and Domino’s Pizza at the sleepovers and movie parties in the `90s, just hanging out eating those crappy pizzas,” Santos said. “Then, once I moved to New York, I got a taste of a lot of this higher caliber Neapolitan-style pizza that’s way better than Papa John’s and Domino’s.”

Valastro also brought his signature cannoli from Carlo’s Bakery to round off the Ultimate Pizza Party. The cannoli had a ricotta-based filling with chocolate chips and cinnamon, encased in an elegant golden exterior. Another fan favorite was Harlem’s Sugar Hill Creamery’s seasonal twists on classic flavors. Stepping away from the all-too-predictable pumpkin spice variations of the fall season, co-owner Nick Larsen whipped up a sweet potato ice cream with a hint of apricot, served with a graham cracker pecan crumble and toasted marshmallow torched on-site.

Although pizza lovers argue over the best pizza style, we can all agree that pizza is something that brings people together. Valastro doesn’t think there’s a right or wrong one, because they’re all delicious.

“I went to the Temple of Pizza in Naples, the pizza was delicious. But because I grew up on New York-style pizza, to me, that’s more of the slice that I wanted,” Valastro said. “It’s also building a pizza that’s made for the reheat, right? You go to a New York pizza shop, the pizza is on the table, but then they gotta go in the oven, crisp up and that’s what it is. The Italian pizza is meant to be eaten quick. If you want to put Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and Flamin’ Hot Doritos on your pizza? It’s America, maybe so, or pineapple, it might not be what I’m gonna order but I’m not gonna criticize it.”

Contact Roshni Raj at [email protected]