Cakes and Cursing
“You are being a pain in the @ss!”
This is what our cute, shy, lovely little six-year-old Simon said to Oscar last week. The utterance immediately initiated an investigation: Where did you hear someone say this? Why did you say that to your brother? Do you even know what it means?
He couldn’t remember where he heard it and he didn’t know why he said it to Oscar and he didn’t know what it meant. But, I can assure you, he did know that he was in trouble.
Stacey and I both know how to throw around an expletive or two, but we’re pretty careful when we’re in the presence of the kids. That particular phrase is not exactly in our repertoire—we tend to curse as a release to pain or frustration, not as a way to communicate with someone else.
Over the weekend, it became clear where Simon had learned that phrase: the television.
As a family, we’ve fallen into watching Cake Boss from The Learning Channel. We stream it from our Netflix account, and have been following Buddy and his gang of bakers as they prepare outlandish cakes of all shapes and sizes and designs from their bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Do Italian families in New Jersey swear? Fahgedaboudit.
The show is intriguing for a number of reasons. The bakery is run by the whole family—Buddy is the only son, and after his father passed away, he took over the bakery and runs it with his mom and sisters and brothers-in-law. So, there are interesting family dynamics at play when people are working under pressure in tight quarters in a creative process. There is an abundance of that essence that drives all reality shows: conflict.
The difference with the conflict that happens in the bakery is that it takes place within the context of a family—not between competitors on an island or fishermen catching crabs in Alaska. At the end of the day, they work it out. As Buddy says, “Mi familia—that’s what’s most important.”
The craftsmanship has also been compelling. Buddy has high standards for the projects he takes on—they design amazing sculptures and landscapes, all out of cake. Buddy has the highest standards and refuses to compromise on his artistic vision. It leads to a lot of conflict, but it also reveals the pride the bakers take in their creations.
This has been great to share with the kids—the passion for perfection, the collaborative nature of the creative process, and the integrity that is needed to stake your name to a quality product.
Every last bit of what they make can be eaten, so there is that moment at the end of the show when they deliver the cake: everyone cheers and then shares in the celebration. Every party has a cake, so every show ends with cheers and a communion of sorts.
Buddy and his family are Catholic, and even though faith is rarely overtly mentioned, the values of our Catholic tradition permeate the show: family, community engagement, and an appreciation for the radical surprise of grace. God’s grace comes to us gratuitously, undeservedly, and abundantly, and that’s how Buddy presents his cakes to his clients. He gets paid, I have no doubt, but everyone who gets one of his signature cakes is astounded and amazed—it is much more than what they could have ever thought possible.
Buddy himself said that he’s in the business of making people happy—isn’t this a reflection of what we, as Catholics, understand about life? We’re here to know, love and serve God in this life, and to be happy with God in the next. Happiness is our destiny, and for my money, not many things on this side of heaven can give us a glimpse into that happiness better than cake.
So, we’re making our way through the five seasons of the show, and enjoying good family time as we do it. Simon and Lucy now talk like they are from Jersey when they work with play-dough—they like to imagine it is fondant in Buddy’s kitchen.
We just make sure that the only language they borrow from Hoboken is the accent.