Bakers taught more than one way to make dough

The Happy Eater

February 14, 1996|By Rob Kasper

WHEN ERIC Goldschmidt died this summer at the age of 84 and when Rudolf Rauch closed Rudy's Patisserie a few weeks ago, fans of well-made desserts were saddened.

Mr. Goldschmidt made spectacular cakes. He not only baked cakes, he dispensed cultural wisdom as well. When, for example, Mr. Goldschmidt made a sacher torte for a visiting reporter, he not only assembled the ingredients, he also gave a history lesson tracing the gateau's lineage back to the Viennese pastry chef, Franz Sacher.

Mr. Goldschmidt was born in Berlin and, as a teen-ager in Germany, he served a 4 1/2 -year apprenticeship learning the pastry-making trade. He fled Hilter's Germany and after some time in Israel arrived in the United States. In Baltimore he baked custom-made goods, first in a shop on Park Heights Avenue, then in a York Road shop at the York Plaza shopping center.

One customer, Gary Pushkin, an orthopedic surgeon, became such a fan of Goldschmidt's that the surgeon began working one day a week in the shop. "With Eric it was a question of did he like you," Pushkin said. "If he did, he wanted to sit and talk." The two men ended up talking and working together. "Eric's genius was the way he would assemble cakes chocolate, and almond and hazelnut," Pushkin said.

When Goldschmidt died last August, Pushkin kept his teacher's recipes and passed some of them to Gerard Billebault, chef of the French Oven, a new wholesale, commercial bakery on Sulphur Spring Road in Southwest Baltimore. Billebault is the former pastry chef at Le Bec Fin, a highly regarded restaurant in Philadelphia.

I spoke to Billebault Monday. He said he would be baking French breads, pastries and tarts by the end of the month. He said he would use Goldschmidt's recipes, including one for stollen, during the holiday baking season. The bakery will be a commercial operation, but the public may place orders for parties and special events.

The news that a new bakery was about to fire up its ovens improved my mood. But, I was disheartened when I talked to Rudy about the closing of his shop.

Like Mr. Goldschmidt, Rudy learned his craft through apprenticeship. During the 16 years Rudy was in business, I would occasionally call him and try to talk to him about his Danish, or the croissant he sold in the Sunday morning farmers' market in downtown Baltimore. Rudy always wanted to talk about the importance of a shop owner's teaching young workers a craft. "The younger people have to listen to older ones," he said. That is how he learned to bake, taught by his father, Rudolf, in Bad Aussee, Austria. The system still works there, he said.

He tried to set up such a system in his West Baltimore business, Rudy said. He had a few successes, a few young men and women who showed up for work on a regular basis and were willing to learn. He sent one apprentice to work in Europe. Several others went on to land jobs in various parts of the food service industry, he said.

But in the past four years, Rudy said, things fell apart. It was hard to get dependable help, especially teen-age help at his West Baltimore shop, he said. "Fifteen is the best age to get an apprentice," Rudy said. "By the time they are 18, the kids have an attitude. But at 15 they are in school and the schools wouldn't let them out, even if they aren't learning. The government has to change that."

Rudy also told me that his policy of firing anyone who missed work twice meant that he often ended up working alone.

Eventually keeping the shop open became too tiring and too expensive, he said. He closed Jan. 7. Since then customers who miss his 40-cent doughnuts and his $40 hazelnut cakes, have been calling him or visiting him at his home above his shop. They want to know where he is going to work.

Rudy tells them he is not sure. He is looking for a job. The places he has applied have told him he is "overqualified," for what they are offering. He said he still wakes up at midnight, a habit left over from the years of checking dough in the middle of the night.

"I don't care what I bake," Rudy told me. "As long as I bake."

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