The Courtyard

11:21 am in Uncategorized by Jason Brechin

This is a copy of a post on my blog, where I have written a number of posts about Dan.  Click through to see the image at the end, since I couldn’t upload it here.

I first came into contact with Dan when he emailed me out of the blue, on July 2nd, 2009, asking if I’d be interested in writing about his Kickstarter project that he started to fund his chocolate making startup.  He wrote, “one of my passions is to make things by hand in traditional ways (for instance I ferment sauerkraut, and knit my own winter gear).”  I wrote back with a few questions that ended up helping me flesh out my first post mentioning Dan, titled Theobroma Cacao.

Needless to say, his project was fully funded and he quickly began work on his first batches.  I think he let me try a little of pretty much every one of his first batches.  Some were ugly, just dry chocolate bits that fell apart.  He tried roasting hotter, cooler, longer, shorter.  He tried different cacao origins and he made me love chocolate.  That was his talent, he would suck you in and educate you about it before you knew what was happening.  Dan taught me how to truly appreciate chocolate.

Once he had his process down a little better, I asked to come by and photograph and take video of him making chocolate.  He seemed excited to have me come to his tiny kitchen on the upper floor of the apartment he was living in.  He told me about how he transforms the raw cacao into cracked and winnowed nibs, ready to be ground.  I watched the chocolate spinning around in the grinding machine he purchased with part of the Kickstarter funds.

He tempered his chocolate on a reclaimed slab of marble while I shot video.  It was beautiful watching the chocolate flowing off the paddles he used to mix and fold the chocolate onto itself.  All the while we talked and he would explain how cocoa butter’s ability to form so many different crystalline structures is so remarkable and so vital to the chocolate-making process.

I met with Dan so many times in the courtyard between the computer science building (Siebel) and my own workplace.  He’d always ask what I’ve been up to, and I never felt like I had a good-enough answer for him.  His passion was infectious and he greatly inspired me to follow my own dreams.  As he gained notoriety, the local newspaper published an article about him and the reporter asked me a few questions.  The first, which I don’t think I got quoted in the article for, was “Why is what Dan’s doing with chocolate important?”  I spent a long time answering that question for the reporter, and I posted my response in a post titled “Why Dan Matters“.

Dan still matters, to me and many others, as an example of what a great artisan can be.  There are so many random wonderful things I could say about him–like his sauerkraut is the only kraut I’ve ever enjoyed, especially the one he added beets to for the inaugural 1000 year old food club event.  It’s hard to pare it down to make this a sensible and meaningful post for anyone else.  One last story, about one of those clandestine courtyard conversations we had…

We met and, as usual, Dan let me sample a bite or two of his latest batches.  He was already into the groove of making chocolate and had sold plenty of bars to friends and friends-of-friends.  I was already planning on buying a bar but he said he really wanted to make sure that he gave a personalized bar to everyone that had donated so long ago to his Kickstarter project.  He pulled out a bar with a mostly blank yellow construction paper wrapper and started writing, and drawing, and more writing, then declaring in all caps “for JASON BRECHIN!” with his signature underneath.  I’ve kept each and every one of my blank/DHS/Daniel Harry Schreiber/Flatlander wrappers, but this one is only mine. And now it’s on the web, to live forever.  Click the image to get the full size scan.

(couldn’t upload it here, so see the picture in the original post)