Dale Dugan, a baker who thought of his handmade breads as works of culinary art, died of cancer Thursday at Chesapeake Hospice House in Linthicum. The Elkridge resident was 48.
"He was an inspiration to everyone who worked with him," said Alfred Himmelrich, owner of the Stone Mill Bakery. "He had an arts-and-crafts ideal that he lived by. He liked making his breads the way the monks did."
Born in Turtle Creek, Pa., Mr. Dugan credited a Mennonite grandmother with getting him interested in baking. He later moved to Columbia and was a 1979 graduate of Centennial High School, where he ran track. He served in the Army as a Ranger.
Mr. Dugan never attended a cooking school. He worked at Clyde's in Columbia in the early 1980s and moved on to become a pastry chef. While working at the old Cover to Cover Bookstore Cafe, also in Columbia, he met his future wife, Alison Reichle, who was then a pastry chef.
He later baked at Linwood's in Owings Mills, the Big Sky Bakery on Cold Spring Lane, the Stone Mill Bakery and Atwater's.
Nearly five years ago, he was hired by Tony Foreman and Cindy Wolf, who own four restaurants. "He was our chief baker," said Mr. Foreman. "He was extremely earnest, relentless and quietly passionate."
He baked at Pazo on Aliceanna Street until about seven weeks ago. As part of his duties, he made breads for Charleston, Petit Louis and Cinghiale. His loaves were also displayed at Pazo.
"He loved people and was always happy to share information about the breads he was working on," said Mr. Foreman. "He liked nothing better than to run up and hand someone a loaf a bread he'd made. It was a giant pleasure for him."
Associates said that some years ago, he developed an affection for Celtic-style bread called struan made with whole wheat, brown rice, corn and oatmeal. His wife said it was one of his favorites.
"He was so enthusiastic about baking that he almost slept and drank it," said Ned Atwater. "He also had tremendous energy. He would address a baking issue like a pit bull. He was consumed by his passion for making bread."
In a Baltimore Sun interview published this year, Mr. Dugan commented on Baltimore's climate. "From April on, Baltimore humidity becomes an ingredient in our bread," he said. "Our bread is basically a body of water, and anything that affects water affects us."
Mr. Dugan described himself as an old-school baker: "We try to bake as close to what they did a thousand years ago, and aside from using the bread dough machine, that is what we do."
He and an assistant baked between 200 and 600 loaves a day in ovens fueled both by gas and chunks of wood that he split with an ax.
"I spend a lot of time with my head and arms in the oven," he said. He formed the loaves by hand. He also scored his loaves, making shallow cuts in surface of the bread with with a razor blade or a fish fillet knife, the Sun's article noted.
His wife said he would buy numerous three-packs of gloves at Costco to protect his hands while he arranged the hot loaves.
Friends recalled that Mr. Dugan even said he enjoyed baker's hours, rising about 4 a.m. before driving into the city.
"The best bakers," he said, "are people who have an artistic side, who see beauty in what they do. I do that all the time, pull a loaf out, and run around and show it to people and say, 'Look at that nice shine,' and they wonder what I am talking about."
Mr. Dugan was a Ravens fan and enjoyed fishing. He also cultivated bonsai trees and had a Chihuahua, Lillia. When not baking, he liked grilling steaks at home.
Plans for services are incomplete.
In addition to his wife of nearly 20 years, survivors include a son, Jacob Dugan of Elkridge; his father, John "Jack" Dugan of Pittsburgh; a brother, Andrew Dugan, and a sister, Elaine Walker, both of Pennsylvania.