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!
Janet Henningsen says
Good Afternoon MC.
A notification came in my mail this morning from you. I just finished reading your eloquent words about this remarkable man. I never met him. I only knew of him because of you and the series you did on him years ago when I had just been bitten by the baking bug. He became an inspiration to me despite the fact that I use 100% whole grains and am not a commercial baker. Thoughts of what he does and how he does it have guided me all of these years.
Saddened by hearing about the news of his passing I am encouraged too because of the manner in which he was able to spend his days – doing what he loved doing. Reminds me of a wonderful friend of mine who was an ice skater. She was still skating, competing and teaching skating up until her ‘end’. She died while ice skating at the young age of 91 years of age!
Thank you for introducing me to him and for sharing this news about him with me today.
Thank you for stopping by, Janet. Apart from good bread, nothing made Gérard happier than to be told he was an inspiration to a new generation of bakers. His greatest legacy is his emphasis on the taste of bread, true bread. Not the fancy loaves with lots of ingredients he could not be bothered to try, let alone bake. He was behind the times in that way but in the ways that count the most he was way ahead of us, never losing track of the holy graal: a great loaf made with 100% pure levain with the best possible combination of acetic and lactic acids so that you took a bite, you would know you had tasted real bread. He also knew perfection is elusive and that’s why he loved being a baker. Every dough was a challenge because no two batches are the same. And that’s why he stuck to making the same bread over and over and never got bored.
This is sad news indeed! It is nice of you to share it with us bakers or amateur bakers.
Your posts have been missed this year, may we hope for some more soon; at your pace for sure but it is always so inspiring and impressive to read all the places you go and the variety of bread bakers here and there.
Plenty of good thoughts go to Gerard Ribaud and all my encouragements for you to go on with exploring the bread world and share it with all of us readers.
Charles Kutler says
Thank you for your post and notice. I wrote of my memory of Gérard last night, whom you introduced me to, as a share:
I have had many teachers and mentors throughout my life. Most wielded an encouragement stick to move me through great difficulties: the laggard I am. Gerard was just pure kindness, ever patient to pass on his gifts. I met Gerard when he took a single student a year. We became close for a period. My wife and I sometimes drove up to Maine to prepare him dinner and talk late through the night as we crafted his dough into wood-oven baked loaves of splendor. He encouraged me to teach others and pass on his knowledge when he was satisfied I had mastered his technique and ability. I did share his unique approach with scores of people, and we used those demonstration donations to fund interested medical students on our trips to Tibet to deliver medical care in resource poor areas: all with Gerard’s encouragement and blessing. His bread was extraordinary and being with him more so. I am so grateful for his life.
Ben Falk says
Gerard. What a legend. I once visited him to see the bakery where the holy bread itself was made. I pulled up and Gerard was wearing slacks and shirtless chainsawing up boards for kindling, with classical music blasting out of a hatchback. Epic doesn’t describe this guy. Rest in peace.
Sounds about right! Glad you got to meet him.
Memories from before. before United States. When he started working on the Ski World Cup, for Rossignol. I think even before in 63, he was a ski-coach. How he explained that as a teenager he worked in a bakery in his home-town, and could tell the time it was by the different kind of shoes walking by through the “soupirail”, the basement window. Then a successfull man who went back to his first passion… amazing. Miss not having seen more of him….
Gérard had many stories to tell about his Rossignol days. It was a huge part of his life and he loved it. What an interesting and rich life he led.
Molly Stevens says
What a beautiful tribute, MC. Gerard will be sadly missed by many.
Permettez moi de vous présenter mes condoléances les plus sincères.
Merci, Molly. C’est très gentil.
Thanks for sharing Gérard on these pages..rest in peace
Thank you, Joseph.
Avis R Fletcher says
So sorry for the loss of your friend. May he rest in peace.
Thank you, Avis.
I found your website in what must have been late 2013 or early 2014… after in that same timeframe spending an early morning with Gérard, arriving to his bakery at 4am, then leaving to apply for a job at a Burlington-area bakery that I will lovingly leave unnamed, upon his suggestion that I spend 3-6 months there to gain basic bread-making skills.
So I went there, my shirt all dusted white with flour, and stood in the lobby with an application nervously rolled up in my hands, eyes tired and red. An hour later I was hired and would take my first steps into the world of bread.
Nowadays, I am a bread baker in New Hampshire, currently experimenting and refining my hand with Einkorn wheat, also growing thirteen heritage landrace Winter varieties for selective multiplication. It has been a critical few days as I coax my first Einkorn levain into being, and just today I had a massive epiphany, a sort of flashback, that brought me to once again consult the knowledge of Gérard…
Suffice it said that he left an imprint in my life, and I am so grateful for that. I am finally growing into the life that truly suits me, and it is by example of him that I have had somewhat of a template to guide me through recent years.
And I thank you for keeping and sharing all this valuable knowledge of his! 🙂
Cheers to you and to Gérard,
Hello and thank you for letting me know that Gérard made such a big difference in your baking life. He did in mine too. I am so glad he shared his knowledge.
The hardest thing to share though is passion and from the sound of it it seems you got the bug too! From wherever he is now, he must be smiling.
Margaret Sapir says
This must be an especially difficult day for you as Noah would have surely given you Mother’s’ Day greetings today. Gerard was the one who told us Noah was your grandson.
As you may remember, my husband and I studied with Gerard and, I believe, led you to him years ago. I was wondering if you could tell me about his connection with Frank Cabot? Cabot was also connected to Wave Hill, the gardens in The Bronx, where we were married.
Hello Margaret, yes, I do remember you and I am forever grateful for your suggestion, back in the fall of 2009, that I go visit Gérard one day. Gérard and Frank were good friends. They may have met through a baker who knew them both but I can’t say for sure. In the summer of 2010 Gérard told me about the mill and the bakery that he was helping Frank set up in the part of Quebec where Frank had spent his summers growing up. Frank’s goal was to bring back to the area the taste of the bread he had known as a child and Gérard was only to happy to help. The story sparked my interest and as Gérard wanted to see Frank again and check out the bread for himself, I suggested we go together. (For more info, see A Visit to Quebec (farine-mc.com/2010/07/visit-to-quebec.html) It was a great trip. Frank and Gérard may have spoken on the phone afterwards but I don’t think they saw each other again.