Friday, July 27, 2012

Gérard Rubaud's Apprenticeship Program - Updated

(see updates at end of post)

Gérard demonstrating folding to Justin Rosengarten
First thing first, let's get the disclaimer out of the way: I have zero financial (or other material) interest in Gérard's apprenticeship program. I don't make a cent if anyone signs up for it (or for any other training program offered at the bakery) and since I live on the other side of the country, I don't even get to taste the apprentices' bread, except on occasional visits back to Vermont. My one and only reward is knowing that by spreading the word about the program, I am helping perpetuate a skills that is very dear to my heart.
Don't get me wrong, if I lived in Gérard's neighborhood, I would have no qualms about accepting an apprentice loaf now and then, just for quality assurance purposes, mind you! ;-). Better yet, I would probably apprentice myself and churn out apprentice loaves for family, friends and neighbors for days on end. But since I don't, I am just happy to describe the ins and outs of the program and let you decide for yourself whether or not it fits your calendar and your needs. It requires a big investment of time and energy and it is not for the faint of heart. But once you have gone through it, you do know how to bake one of the most naturally aromatic pure levain breads in the world.
In a nutshell
  • Gérard considers an artisan baker to be someone who bakes bread for his neighbors. He sees it as an heresy to truck bread away to a distant city. In eighteenth-century Paris, a baker couldn’t sell his bread on the Paris markets unless he had baked it intra muros (inside the city itself)
  • If anything goes, then the artisan is no longer respected and industrial bread sneaks back in. A self-respecting baker doesn’t use the artisan label to sell industrial bread
  • The idea behind the Apprentice Loaf is to give credibility to artisan bread by training credible bakers
  • Under the program, the apprentice acquires both technical and business skills: he or she learns the technical side of bread-baking and is encouraged to open and maintain a dialogue with the stores that distribute the bread.
  • Gérard enjoys having people working with him
  • He also knows he can no longer work as he did ten years ago and he’s aware that with age encroaching, things are not going to change for the better. The apprenticeship program is a way for him to prepare for a transition
  • On doctor's orders, he only bakes five days a week but to his way of thinking, the baker's social responsibility is to make fresh bread available to his customers seven days a week. With two or three apprentices each selling his or her bread to three stores, he could distribute fresh bread six or seven days a week to 75% of the stores which sell his bread now
  • Many of Gérard's customers have asked for a bread with a higher percentage of whole grains and the Apprentice Loaf (which contains close to 30% whole spelt) would satisfy that request.
  • Bakeries already existed in eighteenth-century France while there were none in America at the time
  • Bread culture goes way further back in Europe. Professional bread-baking came late to the United States and there is no existing bread-baking network
  • There are no state- or privately funded programs promoting bread-baking in the United States
  • Even today, less than four hundred schools have a bread-baking program and too often, in Gérard's opinion and experience, this program doesn’t teach proper artisan skills
  • Gérard considers that apprentice bakers need to have access to a complete practical training which baking schools cannot provide
  • Moreover these schools are very expensive and can take up to two years. In Europe, bread-baking schools are partially subsidized by the state
  • It is Gérard's firm belief that in coming years, bread production and sales will be completely separate. Sales will take place in high-traffic areas where production wouldn’t make sense economically
  • That’s why the apprentice must learn, not only to make good bread but to sell his or her bread wholesale to the stores which will carry it (developing a relationship with the customer is a good way to stimulate demand)
  • At the end of the program, the apprentice knows enough to set up his or her own little production unit and has experience with the market
  • The ideal apprentice is confident enough in his or her skills towards the end of the program to start training the next candidate. Gérard's goal is to thus create a self-perpetuating chain of trainers.
Program Description
  • In an intensive hands-on program, the apprentice learns the fundamentals of natural fermentation including how to create a pure levain from scratch and maintain it over time
  • The program typically lasts anywhere from three to six months (in certain cases, it might even go up to a year), ideally with two apprentices at the same time
  • There are no fees involved. The apprentice - who makes the bread from start to finish with ingredients and equipment paid for by Gérard- sells the bread and keeps 60% of the proceeds, the other 40% going to cover the costs incurred by Gérard
  • The apprentice is housed on the premises and has a full kitchen and bathroom at his/her disposal
  • Depending on his or her other commitments (if any), the apprentice can work up to three days a week, sometimes five
  • The apprentice starts his or her day at 5 AM (by then Gérard is done with his own mixing) but usually comes in the evening before to prepare the levain
  • The apprentice learns the craft by hand and moves on to the mixer when Gérard thinks he or she is ready to sell
  • The apprentice delivers the bread he or she makes but the last word on quality control belongs to Gérard who personally checks all outgoing bread
  • The apprentice's bread is the Apprentice Loaf: the formula was developed by Gérard in collaboration with two apprentices, Trenton and Justin. It is already a best-seller with the customers.
The Ideal Apprentice
  • Must be passionate about bread
  • Doesn’t have to be a young person (age really doesn’t matter)
Hopes and Hurdles
  • Gérard doesn’t advertise (although the Apprentice Loaf is sold in a bag describing the program)
  • Recruiting is therefore based on word-of-mouth or chance encounters with potential apprentices
  • Gérard's style of teaching is old-school French, which means there is no pampering, no cuddling and no gushing, quite the opposite in fact: he is often gruffy and the apprentice needs to be strong and self-confident enough to handle it. When I mentioned to Gérard that the American way was to be a tad more encouraging, he scoffed: he learned his trade the way he teaches it. It worked for him close to sixty years ago and he believes it works just the same today. Think bread boot camp!
  • He knows however that he isn’t an easy person to work with (he doesn’t like repeating the same thing over and over and he can be intimidating) and he says he is working on improving his teaching skills
  • When the program is fully operational, it will be the "graduating" apprentice's responsibility to teach the incoming apprentice(s): to date, ten apprentices have "graduated" from the program but chosen to skip the teaching part, a fact that Gérard deplores.
Application Process
  • For a token fee designed to filter out gawkers and tourists, potential candidates can come and watch Gérard work a full-production cycle from 4 PM to about noon the following day
  • Gérard describes the program to the candidate and explains what the apprentice will get out of if
  • Arrangements can then be made on the spot
  • For more information, send a written request to: Gérard’s Breads of Tradition, 29 Rubaud Rd, Westford, VT 05494 . Please include a phone number where you can be reached.
UPDATE - August 21, 2012: Due to the level of interest generated by the program, Gérard Rubaud now requests that potential candidates send him (at the above address) a one-page resumé describing their past experience as well as their expectations for the future, together with their contact information. He will personally answer all such letters. 
UPDATE - December 5, 2012: Gérard Rubaud is currently only accepting applications for apprenticeships starting after March 2013. Also, because of the huge demand, he now requires baking experience.

Apprentice Justin Rosengarten with a batch of practice loaves just out of the oven

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  1. What a different concept from how things are generally done in this country….First thing is always tuition that, now-a-days, is out of the reach of most people wanting to be bakers….He is living proof that one doesn't have to 'mass market' their products to survive in today's world….

    It is so refreshing to read about him. I like this man more and more. What pure energy he must pass on into his breads. I can only imagine that rubs off on his apprentices too.

    Comforting to know he is passing on more than just a skill here. His guidelines are so 'clean' … hidden agenda. How fortunate his apprentices are to get to work with him.

    Another smile to you today for taking the time to present this installment too :-)

    Thank you MC.

  2. I want so bad to do this!
    but I have a job and a 3-year old... if it wasn't for that I would take the first flight to Vermont. one day...
    thank you for spreading the word. good and honest bread techniques need to be spread. there is so much cheating also in the world of bread... just found out that most of the bread that here in Sweden is sold as "sourdough bread" (following the new trend) is really made with massive amounts of industrial yeast. sourdough is added only last minute to fool people by giving the sour taste (and giving the right to write that the bread contains sourdough). real artisans like Gerard should get some type of medal for civil merits. I am serious!!

  3. I wish Gérard would write a book... of course all the info on Gérard's style is here in your blog save the gleaning....

    1. Ment to put a big Thanks in that last post for you MC ..... and that book should include a DVD of the video's you have of Gérard at work...........

  4. I realize this is quite old, however is Gerard still accepting applications/will he be in the future?

  5. I don't know. Your best bet is to write to Mr. Rubaud directly using the address provided in the article. Good luck!



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