Over Fourth of July weekend, Mrs. Nerd and I were doing a little channel surfing and came across the TLC show Cake Boss. Now we both enjoy Ace of Cakes and the various Food Network challenges involving cake. We’d seen the Cake Boss star, Buddy Valastro, on at least one challenge, but couldn’t remember the outcome. Being both reality and food TV junkies, we decided to give it a try.
I have to say it was entertaining in a much different way than “Ace of Cakes.” While Duff has surrounded himself with his talented friends, Buddy has mostly family working around him. Needless to say the work environments are as different as the owners. If anything it’s an interesting case study in management styles, if TV is showing us the true way both of these bakeries are run.
Duff seems to have a fairly hands off approach where he trusts his people do their job. He seems to be the kind of boss that is there to help his people accomplish their tasks. Mary Alice is there to keep the whole operation running smoothly, which allows Duff to be Duff.
Buddy, on the other hand, is more of the micro-manager. The kind that wants to be deeply involved in the details. On one of the episodes we viewed, it seemed like every minute some bakery employee had a new crisis that required Buddy’s attention. While this might make for entertaining TV, I can’t imagine it’s the most effective way to run a business.
While Duff seems to be the magical genie of cake, Buddy seems to be portrayed as the Tony Soprano of the baking business. He’s surrounded himself with family, makes all the decisions, and isn’t afraid to show his anger. “Cake Boss” is the name of the show, and there’s no doubt to the viewer that Buddy is the boss of the bakery. It’s really amazing that he has to be that way. Much like Tony’s crew, Buddy has some really competent people working for him. But for some reason, he feels that he has to boss them constantly instead of letting them fix their own issues. For that matter, Buddy almost seems to bully his customers a bit to fit the skills of the bakery rather than listening to all of their ideas.
With any reality show, the success of the show is all in the editing. Both of these cake shows are being made to show different things. Food Network is obviously editing and creating “Ace of Cakes” to show the craftsmanship and talent of the Baltimore based bakery. The highlight of the show is the cake, with little glimpses into the personalities of the staff. Any discord in the group is downplayed or edited out.
“Cake Boss” seems to be 180 degrees the opposite. The cakes are not as much the focus of the show as the personality of Buddy and the drama surrounding the bakery staff. The food and craftsmanship are downplayed in the importance of the show. It’s like they skipped that stage of this show if you compare “Cake Boss” to it’s channel mate, “American Chopper”.
“American Chopper” started as show that was about building bikes. As an engineer, the building process was the appeal of the original seasons of the show. The craftsmanship and techniques were shown in detail. As their popularity grew, the Teutel family drama became more of the focus of both advertising and the show. It seems like “Cake Boss” is already at that point. I wonder at what point they will rename this channel to the “Discovery Reality Channel”. It really seems to be what their shows are becoming. For The Learning Channel, I haven’t really learned much from “Cake Boss”, “American Chopper”, or “Jon & Kate +8” lately.
For pure genius in cake, I’ll keep watching Duff and the gang. They seem to do a number of original things, bigger cakes, and keep challenging themselves in what they do. The cakes in Buddy’s bakery seem to show a number of similarities. A lot of flowers and same basic designs. While I’m sure the locals are very happy to have a reliable bakery near by, I would bet I can find somebody near me in the Midwest that could make something similar to most of the Carlo’s Bakery cakes with the same quality. However, for the occasion when I want to watch a show where baked goods are more likely to be thrown or dropped than served, I’ll tune into “Cake Boss.”
Engineernerd Rating for “Cake Boss”: Watch it to fill in time when the DVR is empty.