A Day in the Life of an Apprentice
It has been three weeks since I arrived at Gerard Rubaud's bakery in Westford, Vermont. Walking into Gerard's place is like traveling back in time and across the Atlantic. The rustic and artistic wooden floors, cabinets, and tools. The French voices streaming through the radio. The subtle and earthy smells of wild yeast, fermentation and burning wood. Here, all five senses are satisfied, yet not overwhelmed.
The true value of this place, however, remains elusive until you've become part of its rhythms. For rhythm is the soul and lifeblood of this space, much like the pulse of a human heart. Here, I present a window into the daily ebb and flow that breathes life into 29 Rubaud Rd.
I arrive at the bakery between 5am and 6am. I ensure I am fully alert before stepping my foot across the wooden threshold. Gerard already has 6-8 hours of work in and any pre-dawn yawns or eye rubs reeks of slothfulness in comparison. I immediately, yet not hurriedly, begin to prepare my practice batch for the day before joining Gerard in hand shaping the 70-150 loaves that are bound for the awaiting and fired wood oven.
The shaping process is punctuated by multiple breaks. The bread needs a break from us more than we do from it. As the loaves rest, they continue to ferment. We sip espresso as we wait. Waiting. Waiting is of equal value as flour when making good bread. The baker is a guide, not a dictator. She gently ushers the dough through a process, all the while listening to and anticipating it's needs. And so, we wait.
Sometime between 8am and 10am, we transfer our base of operations from the shaping bench to the oven. Here we continue our daily liturgy of feeding the fire, scoring, loading and removing the loaves, 36 at a time. I assist Gerard, bringing him trays of 9 unbaked loaves and 30 minutes later removing racks of 9 baked loaves, steam swirling through the air and the crust crackling in the relatively chilly air. I daydream, write, and plan as I wait. As if on cue, Gerard will break open one of the first loaves out and we partake in our mid-morning snack tearing off pieces of the freshly caramelized crust. I greatly enjoy not only the flavor and aroma of this ritual, but also inspecting the loaf's crumb. A well made bread has an open structure, with smooth, thin, almost translucent walls between the small holes of the loaf's interior. This texture is a marvel for the eye and tongue alike.
As the bake winds down, between 1pm and 3pm, and the last 36 loaves finish baking to a dark golden brown, Gerard hands me the peel. As I wait for the loaves to darken to perfection, I rest on my haunches in front of the firebox to soak in the warmth and the sight of the fire. The radio has long been turned off. Gerard rests, another 15 hour work day coming to a close. The delivery person is out on his route. The only sounds are the crackling embers and the even softer crackle of the browning crust. They are the sounds of the conclusion of a good day's work.