LYNN — Patty Francis has always been sweet on celebrity chef Buddy Valastro, aka the Cake Boss. Imagine her surprise, when she was invited to compete on an episode of the Discovery Family series “Bake It Like Buddy.”
That episode airs Saturday night at 9.
Francis, owner of Luna Sweets, a custom cake design studio based in the Lydia Pinkham building on Western Avenue, and her sister, Laura Valdez, will be seen competing against an aunt/niece team from North Carolina. The two teams had only four hours to design, bake, and decorate an ombre-style cake for the chance to win $1,000 and professional baking supplies.
Francis, a graduate of Lynn English High and Salem State University, said the episode was filmed way back in March 2018. “It has not been easy keeping it a secret,” she said yesterday in her charming shop. She said they had to sign a waiver and faced a hefty financial penalty if they spilled the beans about who won.
Her parents, Mary and Miguel Francis, moved to Lynn from the Dominican Republic when Patty was 13. “My mom is such a blabbermouth,” said Francis, then laughed. “I knew I had to keep the secret.”
“Buddy is one of my heroes. He showed us where all his employees make the cakes, Carlo’s Kitchen, a huge building in Hoboken, New Jersey. It was an awesome experience.”
Filming, she said, started at 6 a.m. and ended about 8 p.m. “It was stressful at the beginning. Before filming began I familiarized myself with the surroundings, opening every drawer to see where things were. I got the hang of it pretty quickly. In fact, the whole time I was very chill, prompting my sister to say, more than once, ‘You have to hurry up. Let’s move on.’ “
The experience was terrific, she said. The show’s production company contacted her about participating and interviewed her via Skype. She and her sister were flown to Jersey, picked up at the airport, put up in a luxe hotel, and well-taken-care-of.
Opening Luna Sweets was an unexpected treat, said Francis. Her sister had taken classes in cake decorating during a maternity leave and, one day, innocently fantasized how great it would be to do that full-time. Francis, upon leaving an unfulfilling banking career, found herself at home baking every day. She recalled sis’ dream. A partnership was formed in 2013.
They rented space in a community kitchen. Patty baked and Laura decorated the cakes. For Laura, motherhood beckoned and Patty bought out her sister in 2016, and has run Luna Sweets solo since then. “I realized the business was not going to grow unless I got my own space.” She signed a lease in July 2017, renovated the second-floor space, and moved into the Pinkham in May 2018.
Francis agrees that banking and baking couldn’t be more different. “I worked in many banks, starting as a teller while I was at Salem State, and was a manager when I left. I really didn’t like it. I’ve always been creative, studying communication at college, choreography … even when I was in my banking career I channeled my creative juices through painting and photography. Baking and decorating cakes is a perfect creative match,” she said. Every so often a buzzer would sound and she’d excuse herself and scoot into the kitchen to check the oven.
“This is physically demanding. You put in 15-hour days, and are standing most of that time. I absolutely love it. The real fun comes at the end, when a cake is done and it looks beautiful. My cakes taste unbelievable, too, and are always a hit at weddings, birthdays, quinceañeras, and all of life’s special events.”