If you’ve been watching this season’s “Cake Boss: The Next Great Baker” on TLC, you may notice a familiar face: Carmello Oquendo. The Worcester resident, known in these parts as “The Cakefather,” can be seen bringing the same chill attitude (they don’t call him Mello for nothing) and artistic spin to his television goodies as he does to the cakes he makes right in his hometown.
“Anything can inspire me,” Uquendo says, with a cool, captivating enthusiasm. “I could be walking in the mall and think, ‘I am going to make that into art.’”
With his can-do spin and knack for turning ideas into mouth-watering cakes, TLC made Oquendo just one of 13 contestants vying for one hundred thousand dollars and an apprenticeship with Cake Boss Buddy Valastro. They discovered him after finding Oquendo’s cakes posted on cakecentral.com, known as “the world’s largest cake community.”
A gig on “Cake TV” is even more impressive when you consider that Uquendo’s been making cakes for less than a year. The 43-year old husband and father of six adult children previously worked for 17 years as a gang unit police officer for the Commonwealth.
“I had to leave because of my health,” Oquendo says, noting that his family lost his brother to gun violence and his sister to the streets. “I was getting a lot of death threats, and I had to reconsider my life.”
In a fateful seven-day visit last year to North Carolina to visit his cousin Marilyn, who happens to be a cake artist, Oquendo saw an outlet for his creativity and that there was money to be made in cakes.
“It was like bells starting ringing,” he says. “Could you imagine what I could do with my artistic ability with cakes?”
From the moment he made his first cake ~ a Tickle-Me Elmo ~for his grandson’s birthday last June, Oquendo’s second career started taking shape. Since then it’s taken the form of cakes shaped like turtles, Michael Jackson, and Spiderman, to name just a few. He’s created for customers as near as Worcester to as far away as New Jersey, and his cakes fetch anywhere from $15 to $1,000.
Oquendo’s quick rise to success has the David Hale Fanning vocational school grad characteristically mellow but excited as well. While he can’t reveal if he were named the Next Great Baker, Oquendo says you’ll be seeing him on quite a few upcoming episodes. And after that?
“We’d love to do a spinoff. I’d love to travel with my wife,” he says. “It beats getting shot at, people fighting with you, and the politics in court. You have no idea how stress free I am since this whole experience began.”
“Life is like a nice Puerto Rican mango,” he adds. “And I want to suck the juices out of it.”
To see some of Oquendo’s creations, visit his site at www.thecakefather.net.
Photos courtesy of TLC.
Bottom photo taken at chef reunion in the TLC studio in NY.