Friday, July 30, 2010

In Memory of an Artisan

I only met Daniel once, about six weeks ago. I had gone down to Prairie Fruits Farm for the weekend for reasons that now seem cloudy, although I think the idea had been to talk to Leslie and her husband Wes about getting involved with the Chicago farmer's markets. Almost as soon as I arrived, I was told of a new vendor next to them at the market, a young man who'd followed his passion for bean-to-bar chocolate to starting his own business - Flatlander Chocolate. They were, believe me, absolutely incredible.

He also made caramels, and I'd tried to buy a salted one from him when I was there. Unfortunately, I'd waited too long, and he'd sold out. "Next week," he assured me with a smile. Of course, I couldn't make it to the market the next week, but I'd hoped to go down to the farm again, sometime this summer, and get one then.

Daniel was 24, and had been a graduate student in computer science (or maybe it was mathematics) at UIUC when he'd started playing around in the kitchen with cocoa nibs. Eventually, the hobby became an all-consuming passion, and he left school to pursue his chocolate-making full-time. When I was a the market, his zeal bubbled out from under his awning. He was a very charismatic young man, tall and thin, with a hipster edge. I both related to him and admired him for taking the leap and pursuing his passion full-time.

Daniel died Tuesday morning, an apparent suicide. The news out of Urbana is sketchy at best, but I have to admit, I find it hard to understand how someone who took such glee in his work could also be desperate enough to kill himself. But, of course, I only met him once, briefly, and our conversation never turned to matters of the heart or mind.

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