Updated October 11, 2018
Photo by M.C. Farine, Courtesy of Julie Rubaud
For years, in-the-know shoppers would plan their grocery runs to City Market, Onion River Co-op
and other area food stores around the weekly delivery schedule of Gérard's Bread. Dozens of lightly tangy, hearty and sweet loaves would appear in late morning and then, by late afternoon — poof! They'd be gone.
Now they're gone forever: Baker Gérard Rubaud died on Sunday, October 7, at his Westford home-bakery. Health problems earlier this summer took him away from bread production. He was 77.
The baker lived the first half of his life in France. He skied for the French national race team and, as a ski coach, achieved international renown before joining ski manufacturer Rossignol to run their race-ski design division. He moved to Vermont in 1976 to oversee operations at the company's Williston ski plant and became president of the company's American operations.
Rubaud quit the ski business in the mid-1980s and started wholesaling high-end boil-in-bag dinners as Gérard’s Haute Cuisine. Some locals may recall seeing them on the menu at Gérard's Restaurant in South Burlington around that time. In the mid-1990s, he turned his attention to baking.
"He wanted to simplify his life," daughter Julie Rubaud told Seven Days
earlier this week. "He wanted to do one thing really well and have total control over it." The elder Rubaud had nursed an interest in bread since learning to bake on a French farm in his youth.
As any sourdough baker can attest, perfecting one's loaf of pain au levain
— naturally leavened country-style bread — is a pursuit that'll keep a person up at night. For Rubaud, the quest became his focus for the last 20 years of his life.
A 2004 stroke took the baker out of production for most of a year, but he came back with a vengeance, according to those close to him. "He marked his recovery [from his first stroke] by the number of loaves he sold," said Julie. "Of all his accomplishments, the thing he was most proud of was his stack of invoices for bread sales after his stroke."
With help only from the occasional short-term apprentice, Rubaud ran his bread practice alone, sleeping in brief winks between tasks — building a leaven; mixing, re-mixing, shaping and re-shaping the dough; and allowing the dough to rest between each step.
"Gérard really believed in pure simple food," said Maggie Sherman, a longtime Rubaud friend who described herself as his 'affectionate companion.' "It all had to do with the freshness and the wholesomeness of the ingredients," Sherman added. "He was a stickler about that."
Earlier this summer, the one-man Westford bakery sat idle as Rubaud underwent physical therapy following cardiac surgery and other ongoing health problems. Sherman said Rubaud had hoped to begin baking again in recent weeks, but the universe had other plans.
And local bellies are emptier for it.
Julie said that for now, family and friends are gathering in private, but they're planning a public memorial for a later date.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the day of Gérard Rubaud's death.