It all started one fine day at work in Stamford when Carlo Fuda was checking out Facebook. CBS was looking for contestants for a brand new show that featured amateur bakers. Without much hesitation, he wrote up an e-mail, hoping his passion and love for food would shine through. Then, late one night he got the phone call. It was from CBS and they had some amazing news: he was going to be one of ten contestants on The American Baking Competition. He remembered being excited that he was chosen, but he had felt that he had a great shot from the start. ”When I got the call,” he shared with us, “it created a new path for me to follow through on my passions.” The American Baking Competition is hosted by comedian Jeff Foxworthy and judged by Marcela Valladolid and Paul Hollywood. Each Wednesday at 8, contestants are pitted against each other with the “Signature Bake,” “Technical Bake,” and “Showstopper Bake.” Eventually, only one baker is left and that person is crowned America’s Best Amateur Baker and they pocket $250,000.
Unfortunately, Carlo didn’t make it past the first episode (check out his CBS backstory), but during the episode his Twitter feed was blowing up with comments from fans who said they loved him and needed to see more. Well, Carlo always has more and keeps his fans fed with his blog and other social media accounts, all listed at the bottom of this post. Some of his most recent recipes are Calabrese Stuffed Eggplant (from a 100 year old recipe), Polpette di Nonna, and Garlic Parmesan Fried Zucchini & Eggplant. Because he was so willing to talk to a fellow paesan about food, we scored an interview with this Stamford/PA resident, getting a view into the machinery that powers such an energetic, creative, sweet, and passionate mind. So, here’s a little slice of Carlo’s la dolce vita, literally the sweet life.
In the first episode of The American Baking Competition, one of the rounds had contestants a create a pie. Is there a story behind your Italian Easter ricotta pie?
Well, my mom makes her own version. My mom’s has no crust, but mine does and I like to add mostarda di frutta. I like to chop it up and throw it in. It really amps up the flavor and amplifies the taste. It also makes it look nicer. My mom… (he hesitates and laughs) I don’t know if she’d approve of my technique, but it reminds me of Italy.
It’s such a stressful environment. You’re not in your own kitchen. You’re thrown into a tent with ten separate kitchens, judges, cameras, other contestants, and a bunch of kitchen gadgets. There are just so many foreign elements. Also, I was away from my home and away from my family. Plus, it was such a difference from the corporate environment that I was used to.
During filming, I learned some great things. For example, I listened to Marcela and I’m really thinking about using the mascarpone in my recipes now. But, the biggest and greatest lesson is that dreams can come true. It’s a little dream, but it’s a great dream. This has really been the (he searches for the right words) amuse bouche for the start of my new life. You know, I was talking to my mom and she wanted to get on The Price is Right. She didn’t want to try for it, because it just seemed like a lot of work. But, I tried to convince her and show her that the effort was worth it.
You need to take chances and put yourself out there.
What do your friends at work and your family have to say about you being on TV?
Everything is top secret, so you can’t talk about anything. It was so tough to not say anything to people, especially at work. I’m always the life of the party, but I’m one of those people who is always happy, no matter what…I’m always having fun, no matter what I’m doing. So, to say nothing at all when I was so excited was tough. It’s all about la dolce vita!
To be honest, I don’t know what it will look like. When someone walked in, they’d think it’s definitely Italian. I’ve been to Italy 30 times, lived there 3 times. I want it to be about the experience. I’m strongly influenced by Torino in the Piemonte Region and by Calabria. Then, I think of a place where you can have fun, talk with people, eat, and it would almost replicate my parent’s kitchen…but with tables. I love to sing, teach Italian, and look at art…and this cafe could have all of these things. I’m an avid coffee drinker, have 10 espressos a day. I can’t help it. I love it. It would be different because it would be a unique twist, a representation of me.
What is your favorite baked good to make?
Pizza and bread, everything from scratch. I actually blogged about it recently. Flour, eggs, olive oil…it’s so simple, so easy, and so versatile and you can make almost anything like a Nutella pizza or panzanella salad with the same recipe.
Is there ever a point where there’s too many toppings on a pizza pie?
Nah, it’s all about what you like.
How did growing up Italian influence your love of cooking and baking?
My parents are from Italy. They immigrated in 1970 and had 3 kids in America. It was like Italy in America…but in Pennsylvania. We’d all make homemade ricotta, prosciutto, and pancetta together in the kitchen. We always had a garden and grew the majority of what we ate. So, I grew up Italian and went to Italy. I actually became a citizen because I loved it there. Because I’m such a momma’s boy, I couldn’t stay away for too long, though…
Everything we do is about food. When I was young, we were all getting the food ready together. Someone’s cutting the bread, someone’s setting the table, and someone’s making the sauce. Everything is about food, but it’s not that we’re obsessed with it, it’s just that everything we do is part of food. Italians are known for that. We gather in the kitchen, we tell stories, and we laugh.
What bakery, cafes and restaurants do you like around Fairfield County?
Connecticut is an interesting place. Northern CT has more of the farms and the green landscapes and then there are parts like Stamford with lots of restaurants, shops, and things to do. One thing that I absoultely love and miss (he splits his time between PA and CT) are the restaurants and cafes in Fairfield County. I lived on Oak in Stamford, would walk down the street, and then I was at Bar Rosso, Zaza, and Capriccio. When I’d go to any of those places, it’d really make me think that I was back in Italy. Pellici’s is good too, though it’s more Italian-American. I’d walk into Bar Rosso, they’d know my drink is the negroni, they’d slide it across the bar, and I’d be ready. That’s where I spent a lot of money and time….drinking, eating, and just chilling.
What is the most important tip that you’d give to home bakers?
I’m an amateur baker, but I just love to eat. What I always tell people because they always get intimidated is that it’s easy. You’ve got to just do it. Be bold. Be playful. Take chances. Don’t be intimidated. Everything I do is governed by my heart and my stomach. I just listen to it and go with it. You messed up? Just work with it, learn from it, and try it again.
Find out more about Carlo by checking out these sites…
His blog that touches on recipes, food, music, life, and (of course) Italy: Carlofuda.com
Check out his blog posts for Bella Life, too!