Gérard Rubaud passed away yesterday. He hadn’t been well for a while but he was on the mend. He sounded very upbeat the last time we spoke, which was two weeks ago before I left on my trip.
He hadn’t started production again since he came back from the hospital: he just didn’t have the energy for it yet but he was building a new levain (starter), playing with grains, temperatures and percentages as a musician would play music and he was already dreaming of future fournées (batches.) I know he planned to start small but I can’t remember if he said thirty or one hundred loaves. Either way it sounded like a huge step on the slow path to recovery.
It wasn’t to be.
Today Gérard’s levain is orphaned. The oven is cold. And the world has lost a great baker. Someone who lived and breathed bread and could follow the baking process in his head from A to Z as a true fan would watch a game on TV. He had almost a symbiotic relationship with dough.
I will never forget the sight of him bent over the bench in his old bakery, his light the only one around in the darkness of Vermont nights. A flicker of his wrist, a cloud of flour, the dull shine of his bench knife and the balls of dough filling up tray after tray waiting to be shaped.
When he was baking he slept in 12-minutes increments. On a wooden bench near the window when he knew a visitor might come. Otherwise right there on the floor in front of his oven. His favorite spot. Don’t ask why 12 minutes, it was one of his pet theories and it worked for him.
We lived on opposite coasts but we were close. I will miss our weekly talks. I will miss his saying: “Formidable! (Never better!)” each time I asked how he was doing. It always made me laugh. Gérard wasn’t one for self-pity, that’s for sure.
Rest in peace, my friend. My only comfort today is knowing that you got your wish: you died in your little home over the bakery and you were spared the anguish of living the last of your days in a faraway place with no mill, no mixer, no dough trough and no wood-fired oven.
I will sorely miss you.
Au revoir, Gérard!