URBANA — Dan Schreiber was all about getting others to think about their passion. And he was well into the pursuit of his own in the form of food when the University of Illinois graduate student died in July 2010 at age 24.
His friends and family are confident he would be pleased with how they've decided to carry forward some of his ideas in a community kitchen dedicated Sunday night in Urbana.
The "Flatlander Classroom" — named in honor of Mr. Schreiber's bean-to-bar Flatlander Chocolate business — is the latest portion of the improved Common Ground Food Co-op in Lincoln Square to open.
A $30,000 donation from friends of Mr. Schreiber made the plans that Common Ground had for a hands-on community kitchen come to fruition sooner than would have been possible. The food co-op started its physical expansion last May and finished in November.
"He had spoken to Common Ground to create a shared kitchen space," friend Laurence Mate said of Mr. Schreiber's plans. "One idea was that it was to be used by people who wanted to sell things at the farmer's market but needed a (public health) certified kitchen."
But when regulations about homemade items sold at farmers markets eased, that changed the kitchen's mission to more of an educational one, Mate said.
"Dan was interested in educating people about food," he said. "It has a rich history and is not something that complicated. He felt that everybody should be able to enjoy fresh, nutritious food. He always thought of his chocolate factory as classroom space.
"So many found him an inspirational figure, and we couldn't bear to let that inspiration go. How do we create something that will give other people in our community some of that inspiration we found from Dan? When we heard about Common Ground's expansion plan and that a kitchen classroom was part of its design, it sounded like it could be a great partnership," he said. "Indeed, it was something they really were committed to but might not be able to do as part of the initial plan. Just to equip it was going to be about $30,000. They had to make sure the store itself was going to be operational before they could spend extra money on the classroom.
"Dan had been a member of the Common Ground. He was buying ingredients for his chocolate at the co-op and the co-op was one of the first places to sell his chocolate."
Although the community kitchen has been operational for a couple of months, Sunday was its formal introduction to the community at a party that featured locally grown fruits and vegetables, champagne and live music. It also featured Mr. Schreiber's parents, from Palo Alto, Calif.
"I'm thrilled with the finished product because it's a reflection and a realization of Dan's ideas and desire to create a place for the community to do things that are healthy, fun and beneficial for all," said his father, Rob.
The elder Schreiber said his son was a "picky eater as a little boy," as so many children are. He said Mr. Schreiber got his mother's penchant for "creative things and artisanship."
Fascinated by math and computer science, Mr. Schreiber decided to take a break from working on his doctorate in computer science to make and sell chocolate full time. But he had other interests, such as the fermentation of foods like sauerkraut and yogurt and the Dine In My Back Yard movement to promote the use of locally grown foods at dinners actually hosted in folks' backyards.
Sharon Jackson of Urbana was on hand for Sunday's dedication and said she loved the kitchen. A Common Ground owner since 2000, she used to make the co-op's hummus in her home kitchen. She met Mr. Schreiber and "loved his chocolate and his vision for having this community kitchen."
The kitchen features a mobile, electrically powered custom-built island with four induction burners, a convection oven that can also be moved around the room, a full-size refrigerator and a nice stock of pots, pans and utensils. It also has electronic equipment to project PowerPoint presentations on a wall that features Mr. Schreiber's signature line: "What's your passion?"
"We were able to afford much higher quality equipment, things we won't have to replace any time soon," said Colleen Wagner, events coordinator at Common Ground.
When the space isn't being used for classes, it's an open cafe for customers to sit and eat or have a cup of coffee.
Maya Bauer, Common Ground's education coordinator, said people do not have to be Common Ground owners in order to take classes.
"It's such an incredible opportunity for the community (to receive) education about food and food issues," Bauer said, adding there have been more than two dozen classes so far this year that have been well-received.
Examples of upcoming class topics include gluten-free baking, cooking healthy on a budget, pairing cheese and beer, cooking for your dog and helping beginning gardeners get started.
Participants can sign up online at Common Ground's web site (http://www.commonground.coop). Some classes are free; some have a charge. Classes that involve hands-on cooking are capped at 10. Those that involve a lecture can usually accommodate 15 to 20, Bauer said. Anyone can attend, including minors, but they must be accompanied by an adult, she said.