Tuesday, December 9, 2008

from Angelina

this picture in on display at the gift shop at Scharffen Berger

I visited Robert's blog a week ago or so after it was featured as Blogger's Blog of the Week. I was touched by the various posts celebrating your friend's life, and I was actually moved to tears. I had almost forgotten about reading the blog when, just tonight, I saw a Scharffen Berger chocolate bar in the checkout line at Trader Joe's in downtown Washington, D.C. I figured I must try the chocolate bar I'd read about on the blog, and I'm certainly glad I did--what a delicious piece of chocolate.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

from Rennea

Renie Joie taped it with Jamie's camera (I think)
I added the subtitles in case the sound doesn't come out well.
Voilá Roberre, here is a song for you: Oye Roberto

from Theresa

Nancy Steinberg, Robert's sister, thanking all the volunteers and people who donated goods and services for the celebration

Hi Alice,

Yes, it was a wonderful event. I enjoyed hearing all the stories and reconnecting with old friends. I'm sorry I wasn't able to stay to help with the clean up! Here's a link to some of the photos I took. Please feel free to share.

Celebrate Robert

more from Susie

Here is a link to Susie's set of pictures
of Robert's Celebration on November 9th, 2008
Robert Steinberg Memorial

from Susie

This week Robert Steinberg, one of the forces behind ScharffenBerger Chocolate Maker, passed away after many years of fighting cancer.

I’m happy to have known this brilliant, passionate man who started as a doctor then dedicated his life to creating a high quality dark chocolate as well as educating the palates of many. I tell people Scharffen Berger was the first great American dark chocolate. (Remember when Special Dark was the only American dark chocolate?)

I remember the the thrill of first hearing about Scharffen Berger, in a long profile in the San Francisco Chronicle, when the company was in its original location.

copied by permission from Susie's blog nuttyfig.com

Then when volunteering for Transfair USA on Fair Trade chocolate, in 2001, we were giddy about being able to visit Robert at the new factory in Berkeley. I’d never met someone like Robert, with such fervor and deep scientific knowledge of cacao beans (back before the word “cacao” emblazoned the labels of every high end chocolate bar).

We learned the company was already paying its suppliers a price higher than required for Fair Trade certification. Their main concern was getting the best quality beans possible and educating more cacao growers on how to process their beans for quality.

Most memorably, he wanted us to truly understand the difference in chocolate flavor (mainly Fair Trade vs not). We held a chocolate taste test along with chocolate luminary Alice Medrich, attributed with introducing the chocolate truffle to America many years ago.

When I went to Paris, Robert gave me some bars to take the picture above (which now so au courant, with the Jeff Koonz show at Versailles.) After hearing he learned to make chocolate at Bernachon in France, I took a side trip through Lyon to see what Bernachon was all about. I decided I liked Scharffen Berger chocolate better.

Fair Trade chocolate has come a long way in just a few years, as has Scharffen Berger chocolate. Now you’ll find it in many stores thanks to their acquisition by Hershey. I imagine Robert was proud to have influenced the quality of Hershey as well as other large chocolate brands.

Knowing Robert has left this world is bittersweet but I’m sure he’s enjoying the great chocolate factory in the sky. Learn more about Robert on the Scharffen Berger website.

copied from Susie Wyshak's blog: nuttyfig.com

Thursday, November 13, 2008

from Deborah

An Appreciation of Robert Steinberg

I first met Robert in April 1997. Agnes Lord told me about her friend Dr. Robert Steinberg who was starting a chocolate company with John Scharffenberger. She said they were looking for a public relations consultant and she’d recommended me. Robert brought a sample of his chocolate for me to taste. It was an early batch of the bittersweet 70% and was unlike any chocolate I’d had at that point – bold, fruity, and memorable. We talked of his life journey and why he and John started the company. The meeting must have gone well because I was asked to meet with John and was subsequently hired. The next several years were enormously exciting, rewarding and fun for me. I know that in the beginning, Robert had his doubts about PR and my methods, especially when he had to be convinced to pose with John buried up to their necks in cocoa beans for a magazine shoot! He came around though.

Long after I stopped working with Scharffen Berger, Robert always found the time to call me whether it was to gripe about a poorly researched article about chocolate, a book he was reading, who he was dating, his physical state, an under-the-radar restaurant find, or a new batch of cocoa beans that had come in. I was thrilled that he was feeling so healthy for most of 2008. He was traveling a lot and we only saw each other in passing – at the Orson opening, outside Bi-Rite Market where he purchased pickled herring regularly and at the Golden Glass event at Fort Mason in July where I bumped into him in a typical Robert pose - wine glass in one hand and head angled to one side while surveying the crowd with quizzical amusement.

I miss him enormously – his kindness, warmth, occasional rants and his sheer passion for life. I have been holding onto my last two limited edition bars – Porcelana and Jamaica à l’ancienne, but finally feel ready to open them up.

Robert, thank you so much for your friendship and your impact on my life which continues to grow as I meet the people who were so important to you.

Deborah Kwan

Saturday, November 8, 2008

How to get to St. Georges Spirits - Robert's Celebration

These are really good directions
Our address is 2601 Monarch Street,
Alameda, CA 94501. Our phone number is
(510) 769-1601.

From San Francisco:
Go across the Bay Bridge and stay in right
lanes for 880-S to San Jose and Alameda.
Take the Broadway/Alameda exit and turn
right at the signal onto 5th. Stay in right lane
to Alameda. After the third light, angle left
into the Alameda tube. Follow Alameda
directions below.

From Berkeley and the North:
On 80-W stay in left of center lanes at the
MacArthur maze to San Jose and Alameda to 880 S. Take the Broadway/Alameda exit and turn right at the
signal onto 5th. Stay in left lane to Broadway and angle left to the Alameda tube. Follow Alameda
directions below.

From the East (Concord, etc.):
Take 24 to Oakland (980). Take 12th Street Exit straight ahead to 5th Street (just past 880 overpass). Turn left
(stay in one of the left two lanes), continue through the tube to Alameda. Follow Alameda directions below.

From the South Bay:
Go North on 880 to Broadway exit (downtown Oakland). Turn right on Broadway, then right again
immediately at the first light onto 7th street. Straight ahead two blocks to Webster Street. Turn right on Webster
into Alameda tube. Follow Alameda directions below.

From Alameda:
As you exit the Webster tube the road forks, stay in the middle. Turn right at the first signal onto
Atlantic. Follow Atlantic almost two miles until just before the entrance to Alameda Point. (the Naval
Air Station) Turn right on Main St. and continue until you arrive at the North Entrance of the Naval
Base. Go through the gates, veer right, then make the first righthand
turn onto W Red Line Avenue.
Red Line dead ends on Monarch Street; turn left onto Monarch. St George is the second Hangar on
your right. The entrance to the tasting room and retail space is on the west side of the Hangar.

and here to print the map/directions in Alameda.

Monday, November 3, 2008

from Raul

Hello everyone,

I just wanted to share with you a picture of the Altar we made in the name of Robert and Alta's brother in la Hacienda.
I tried to find doctors made out of chocolate, but could not. I think he visited us. He turned over one of the vases and ate some chocolate!

big kiss.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Robert's Life Celebration

We are celebrationg Robert's life on November 9th, 2008.
Save the date and join us from 3 to 6pm at St. George Spirits.
We will be sharing stories, pictures and some delicious food.
We are asking everyone that is planning to come to please RSVP
in the following EVITE
Looking forward to seeing you there!

from Jed

I will never forget Robert's friendship with my parents and presence at our house in Ukiah. Picking raspberries in his back yard and watching Robert acting at the Ukiah Play House are some of my earliest childhood memories. I will forever be in debt to Robert for his help in reviewing my application for medical school. I am lucky to have known Robert, and saddened that my parents have lost one of their closest friends.

Jed Katzel

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

from Nigel, Pilou and Juliette

A photo of Robert in Aix taken last year.

Rennea, We are slowly getting to grips with the fact that we have lost a wonderful friend. I can still remember that wonderful evening at my flat on Piazza Santo Stefano in 1990 where we all started to get to know each other. Pilou and I had just met. Over the years, we have met up with Robert most years somewhere or another and I have such great memories of long lunches and evenings spent around a table. I could always pour my heart out to Robert, he was a great listener and a very wise counselor. What a great piece of life he had over the last 20 years despite the knowledge of his illness. Few could handle that with such calm combined with optimism and enthusiasm. Last year we joined up on our boat in Marblehead and in Maine for a few days and again in Aix en Provence in October.

We are so sorry that we can’t be there for the celebration but it is difficult with Juliette and a long way to come. We will be with you in heart and spirit.


from Anni and Jarion

Sheer indulgence - Anni and Robert at the 2002 Whiskey Expo at the Nikko Hotel in San Francisco

Single malt Scotch whiskey and Sharffen Berger chocolate together? Jarion is in Heaven with his dear friend!

In loving tribute to Robert

Robert Steinberg: a dear friend, a great inspiration.

Jarion has known Robert since the 1970s, when he had the rare experience of sharing the stage with Robert at the Ukiah Playhouse in "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead." I met Robert after Jarion and I married in 1989, and I remember sadly digesting the news of his lymphoma diagnosis, and visiting him in his San Francisco medical office just before he sold the practice.

Sure, I remember his apartment and the roof view and the kitchen remodeling project, and the great cooking tips he shared, and the fine meals and deep discussions there and at our house in Mill Valley. But most of my memories of Robert come from his post diagnosis chocolate fervor. He met us for lunch in downtown Mill Valley one day and said "don't order dessert," whereupon he produced two foil wrapped packets from his pocket. He said he had been "experimenting" in his kitchen, and offered up a smooth slab of homemade conched chocolate, with a complex, intense flavor that made our eyes grow wide with pleasure. The contents of the second packet looked more like something regurgitated by one's pet, brown and lumpy with bits of cocoa nibs in crunchy evidence. However, upon savoring it, Jarion, a fellow fine chocolate lover, immediately pronounced that it should be a commercially available confection - as is. Much to our delight, a few years later and with some refinement, the Nibby Bar was born.

Jarion loved to visit the first Sharffen Berger factory in South San Francisco, because Robert gave him bags of cocoa bean hulls to use as garden mulch. He would empty those big burlap bags around the garden and when the sun warmed up the hulls, our entire property would be wrapped in the warm aroma of chocolate.

Robert designed the cake for Jarion's 50th birthday party in January of 1998, and brought it to the event along with the final decorations, big flat shards of chocolate and bits of edible gold leaf. He later took the microphone onstage to roast Jarion up a bit, lovingly tweaking the youthful narcissim of his actor buddy. The 100 or so guests were thrilled to discover Scharffen Berger chocolate that night, and many fans were born.

We also tried a bit of matchmaking at times, but Robert did just fine in his relationships with women without our efforts. With his intelligence and wit, his humor and energy and his great heart, why not?

So many times when our calls were not returned, or our messages were unanswered in the past few years, we thought... is this it? Is Robert in the hospital, has he succumbed to the cancer, is he unable to communicate with us? And then a flood of joy and relief would follow when he finally called back, or showed up at one of Jarion's performances, with a quick update on his latest brush with mortality, but as he had many times before, he had once again bounced back. He once called from a hospital in Boston during a medical struggle, once from an airport in Miami after his latest treatment had worked so well he was off to an international conference. He sometimes rested and recuperated - but he usually jumped right back into the fray as soon as he was barely on his feet again.

These fond photos are from the Whisky Expo at the Nikko Hotel in March of 2002. Jarion is passionate about single malt whiskey AND chocolate, so when we found out Robert would be there representing Scharffen Berger, we were delighted! Robert left his table with its huge pile of chocolate pieces chopped up on a giant slab of a cutting board, to wander around with us, sampling the food and information and history, (while Jarion and I sampled a LOT of whiskey).

Passion and commitment fueled the final years of Robert's rich life, and is a lesson to all of us to care deeply, live vigorously, and love wholeheartedly. We will miss you greatly Robert,

Anni Long and Jarion Monroe

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

to Robert


The beautiful thing about having lots of friends

is that there is a little bit of you in each of them.

Each has a story to tell and a warm thought to share.

I wonder what do you think when you read this blog.


from Ed Rudolph

photo of Robert and Jamie, 2005. A close examination shows that in his bag Robert is carrying a newly-purchased book called "Seeking the Heart of Wisdom."

Robert had an extraordinary number of friends when he died, a wide variety of interesting people, many of whom loved him. Somehow, as he grew older he became more of a mensch. The scope of his friendships and connections shows what an extraordinary guy he was.

In 1974, Robert and my cousins Judy and George all worked at the then Pacific Medical Center in the Fillmore district in San Francisco. I first met Robert the afternoon he and I, among others, were helping Judy and George move their furniture from an apartment on Clay Street across from Alta Plaza Park into another apartment on top of a small shingled building on Buchanan Street. He and I and others were carrying a large but reasonably light couch up the stairs. Judy had introduced him to me as “Row-bare,” the French pronunciation and, in fact, he wore a beret. Even now, half the time I call him “Row-bare” and the other half “Rah’-bert.” That day we all managed to wedge the couch firmly into the last doorway it had to go through. Beyond that door, Judy and George’s new narrow staircase made a right turn from the direction of the hallway. The couch was not going to make it up those stairs; it would retreat back out of the building and go somewhere else. After it had gotten wedged there and we had all been wrestling with it for a while, Robert said, “I’m sorry, I have to leave. I have to go swimming.”

That was the day I met him. He did so many things in the following years that I can’t remember the exact chronology. After his internship, he entered a psychiatric residency at Yale but didn’t like it; he moved back to the Sunset District of San Francisco and completed a Family Practice residency at SF General. He and I roomed together for a year or more in a flat with fantastic views on Potrero Hill, a neighborhood that was then somehow separated from the rest of the city. To give you an idea of how long ago this was, our rent then was $450 and that flat now rents for $4800. At some point he moved to Manhattan with the thought of becoming an actor - we drove together from SF to NYC hauling a trailer with some of his furniture in it. After a year or more, he returned to California and lived and practice medicine in Ukiah, California. Then he seemed to settle down in San Francisco, although it seems wrong to say that Robert could settle down, and in 1986 he and I and Jamie Putnam (now my wife) together bought a house around the corner from that flat he and I had lived in. He lived in the upstairs flat, we downstairs. He started a medical practice as a family physician in the West Portal area. A couple of years after we’d moved in, he was diagnosed with lymphoma.

His diagnosis began the period you might call “the rest of his life.” He decided to close his practice and, these are my words not his, devote himself to his life. What is unusual is how broad his life became. He lived alone but always sought others. During the next twenty years he was often away traveling, punctuated by periods of dealing with his illness. When he went into the chocolate business his schedule became even more hectic. Amazingly so. I don’t know how he did it. The longer he lived with his illness, the more he accomplished.

I’ve noticed that some people, as they grow older, stop making friends. Getting old leaves them with fewer and fewer of them. But Robert every year seemed to have more and more and more friends. To me, this is a sign of how extremely, outstandingly healthy he was to the day he died.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

from Leslie Krebs

Robert at Chocolate Concerto after his talk, Chapel of the Chimes, Oakland, CA

I will miss my old friend, Robert Steinberg, very much.

I met Robert in the early 1960s, when we were in first-year French class at Marblehead Junior High School in Massachusetts. Our teacher was the indomitable Helen C. Bagley, whose French was so guttural she used to spray the front row of students with her spit. We said someday we'd all "go to hell n' see Bagley."

In high school, we called Robert "Stein" and "Bob," two names he did away with later, just as he did away with his terrific Cyrano de Bergerac nose. Tracked in classes with Robert year after year, I was drawn to his quiet intelligence, thoughtful demeanor, gentle charm and expressive green eyes. I didn't mind his occasional outbursts, when he would blurt out a pointed one-liner about something that was annoying him. As he himself once observed, "We sometimes play against our own best image."

Robert could be so kind. On one visit, he travelled all the way to El Salvador to see me in the 1970s, when I was having a rough time in a bad marriage with a baby in tow. Robert's presence spread a kind of balm over the scene and reminded me that there were some very good men in the world, and that it didn't have to be my fate always to suffer with a bad one.

(Was this the Latin American trip where Robert wound up trapped by flooding in a Bolivian town inhabited by Nazis in hiding? I wish I could call him up right now so he could tell me that story again.)

Robert was a good doctor, but he did not seem happy in a profession he had chosen out of caution, not love. So it was one of those bittersweet ironies of life, noted by other admirers online, that Robert's diagnosis gave him a reason to throw caution to the winds. Who could have known, back in junior high, that chocolate would give full play to Robert's creativity and single-minded pursuit of excellence? Or that his chocolate would rival the best in France?

Helen C. Bagley would have been proud, and she would have taken credit.

One of the things I liked best about Robert was how intently he would listen to you and value the way you put things. It made you think about what you were saying because suddenly it was very important. On one visit to San Francisco, after Robert had been through another one of those close calls with lymphoma, I said to him, "This illness is just so … so … so … (Robert was waiting) inconvenient!" "YES!" he fairly shouted. And I was relieved I had found the right word.

In recent years, Robert gave a talk at the Museum of Natural History here in Santa Barbara, arranged by a friend of mine who worked there. It was supposed to be an event for special donors, but the local newspaper mistakenly reported that it was open to the public. The frazzled museum staff had to turn away hundreds of angry people who called and showed up at the door, clamoring to be allowed in. When the lucky audience finally settled down, Robert gave a science lesson to equal any we got in high school and soon had people swooning over bits of cacao and dark chocolate.

The paper ran a story entitled, "Sweet Talker," which Robert sent to his mom. He didn't like the headline, but it was true there was real sweetness in him. I used to worry that he was not married. Some years back, after he had let yet another good woman slip away, I said, "But who will take care of you?" And he said, "I have WONDERFUL friends here in San Francisco."

Making great chocolate may have been Robert's métier, but his friends — all of you who cooked and dined and drank with him and and talked philosophy and baseball with him — you were the spice of his life.

— Leslie Krebs

from Beth

I had the good fortune of meeting Robert right when he was honing his chocolate recipes and easing into his new career. I don't remember how it came up but we soon discovered our common judaism and on occasion over the years we would share an impromptu Passover sedar at Baker Beach or a more extended one at his home. Robert was always like family to me: loving, supportive and totally straight-up with his opinions. It goes without saying that he will be missed by so many of us. Through this blog, I've been moved to see just how many people Robert touched. He was a wonderful man and I miss him terribly.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

from Gerry

Pictures taken in Boston just this past August.

They were taken at his mother's birthday party on Aug 17th, his mother's 90th. Robert is with his cousin Gerry Levinson in the first. The group shot is with Nancy, his mother Selma, and his uncle Melvin Levinson (Gerry's father)

Ann and Gerry Levinson

from Kelly and Brian

Robert's brownies

We met Robert through the Red Sox group, although we only knew him for about a year, we felt he was very friendly and nice. My favorite memory is when at this year's superbowl he came to our house and made the best brownies we have ever tasted. We are going to miss you Robert!

Kelly and Brian MacFarland

from Jamie

Truth and Method

I first met Robert the fall of 2004. I had just moved to the city and
began working at Christopher's books, the little bookshop a block away
from his house. Christopher's books is the epitome of a neighborhood
bookstore: a cozy, little space with a variety of books tailored to
the tastes and needs of the local clientele. My first, rather
idealistic, maneuver as a fresh, young bookseller was to beef up the
store's modest philosophy section with a few of my favorite fat,
esoteric, mostly German, philosophical tomes. My co-workers were
skeptical. In fact, one of my co-workers proclaimed that she'd buy me
a drink if I ever managed to sell our newly acquired copy of Truth And
Method, Hans-Georg Gadamer's extensive critique of philosophical
hermeneutics. Enter Robert. He and I began discussing literature
which lead to discussing different translations of Proust which lead
to discussing textual interpretation which lead to him buying Truth
and Method. Robert won me a free drink. However, two days later he
returned to the store with the book in hand. "We need to talk," he
said as a plopped Truth And Method down on the counter. I was
delighted. What followed were more long, meandering conversations
over coffee, wine, whiskey and always, always food. We learned a lot
from one another by relishing in our differences as well as our
similarities. We attended rodeos and Beckett plays, author lectures
and sports bars. His penchant to experience life with such abiding
curiosity and wonder allowed for so many meaningful conversations and
incredible friendships. He genuinely cared because he was genuinely
interested. I once gave him a book in which I had inscribed the Rilke
quote: "Resolve to always be beginning--to be a beginner." That was
the beauty of Robert as I knew him. Always curious, always
interested, always ready to learn something new. I am eternally
grateful that one day he felt like learning something new about
philosophy. I will miss him so.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

from Joyce and the Red Sox Meet-up group

I'm glad to have found http://doctor-chef.blogspot.com and hope to be able to come to any memorial for Robert that may be organized in SF. Please let me know when the memorial will be, once the arrangements have been made. Thank you.

In the meantime, I've read quite a bit about Robert this past week, and learned a lot in particular about his life as a foodie, chocolatier, and most recently, as someone who was working with cacao bean farmers abroad to improve their product and economic well-being. What's clear to me is that many people will remember Robert's passion as a physician and as a chocolate maker.

But Red Sox Nation in the Bay Area really got to know him first and foremost as a kindred Bosox fan and member of our Bay Area Sox Meetup Group (http://redsox.meetup.com/117/). We enjoyed many get togethers with him to cheer on our team. When I learned of his history in medicine and chocolate, I started calling him Dr. Chocolate at our Sox meetups and the nickname stuck.

Although he had moved from Boston a long time ago, he clearly never lost his fanaticism for Boston sports. When he was visiting a friend in Paris last year, the Sox were playing in the World Series and he watched the game live (3 am local time) on a laptop. When the Sox won the game he called our group watching in SF just to be able to share his excitement.

When we gathered at Jillians to watch the Sox-Yankees series this past July, Robert showed up, even though he had not responded to the event posting saying he was coming. He joked that he liked coming to our Sox meetups to catch up on the "soap opera" of sports. At this gathering, in addition to bantering about the Sox and Yankees players' baseball records, we got Robert involved in a heated debate about whether or not Alex Rodriguez and Madonna had in fact slept together.

I know Robert lived a long time with his illness, and despite ups and downs he seemed to approach most days with a zest for life, always looking forward to his next great adventure. I'll always remember him as he was during our trip to LA last year when we watched the Sox sweep the Angels during the division playoffs. He bounced around with boyish glee and a huge happy grin on his face.

RIP Dr. Chocolate.

Joyce Q.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

about Robert's funeral

Robert is buried at his maternal grandfather's plot maked Levinson.

Robert's funeral was on Tuesday, September 23rd at noon in West Roxbury, Boston, MA. I made it in the red-eye from San Francisco and was glad to be there among 25 people or so. His sister, some cousins and friends of his family. A rabbi performed the rituals and many of us shoveled some dirt over the wooden casket.

Around the world he has left his Robert-touch. We miss him so.

We know he lived thoroughly. I just have to agree with Mark (as in Twain) " A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time"


from Heidi & Hartmut

Here is a picture of Robert when he was here almost 2 years ago. He's in the kitchen, beating up an awesome Mousse au Chocolate from scratch to be consumed on Christmas Eve. I remember that he was complaining about the mediocre quality of chocolate that I provided, not being prepared. The result nevertheless was heavenly.

Dear Rennea!

By now, you and Betsey are taking part in Robert's passing ceremony, and I sit here and send my prayers over the ocean, so they can become part of the big hymn of friendship that must be humming through the place right now like a swarm of honey-drunken bees. I wish me and Hartmut could be there, too. In a way, we are.

As you know, Robert came to our home for a last visit over Christmas of 2006. We were so happy when he called, asking whether he could drop in on his way from France to Berlin. Of course he could. Especcially because - since Betsey had left San Francisco - we hadn't been travelling over there and hadn't seen him at all. Alas, when I parked the car to pick him up at our tiny train station in small town Germany the day before Christmas, I remember this odd little splurge of sheer happiness: After all those years, Robert and us were still connected though we had been living worlds apart. Some people step into your life and never leave again. They remain close to your heart because they belong there. That's the way it is with Robert.

Dear Rennea, and that's the way it is with you as well. We love you from afar and read your invitations by email, wishing we could hear you sing, and keep up the good hope that one day we'll chat and laugh together again.

xxx, take care
Heidi & Hartmut

from Deirdre

I started working at Scharffen Berger just a little over two years ago. I lived in West Berkeley at the time, about a 20 minute walk from the factory, and discovered the magical red brick building one afternoon while walking my dog. (Typically, these walks constitute a great deal of Cassie, my dog, snuffling along, but this particular afternoon it was my curious nose that led the way.)

I never thought I would stay in the job long. For one, I was never even close to a chocoholic. But I started to get more and more interested in the details--from the vividly human element of the farmers, to the complex chemical interactions, to the social and monetary economies that evolved over thousands of years.. All from a fruit tree.

I blithely introduced myself to Robert, and started querying him in the hallway only a few weeks after I began working as a tour guide. He listened to my questions, but would interrupt and reframe the question when I was being too narrow in scope, neglecting important variables. He couldn't give a short answer. His grasp of the subject was too holistic. His answers were given with an evenness of tone, which made his occasional sarcastic asides droll, rather than cutting. He looked me in the eyes and pronounced my name correctly. He talked about food passionately. I liked him immediately.

While my interactions with him were only at the factory, in hallways or the retail store, they never felt businesslike. Usually he was with friends, eagerly showing them around. Even when he was alone, he brought an individuality and warmth with him. I wish I could have known him better, but I'm so glad to have had even these small moments.

from Alan Newman

I was Robert's oncologist for the last many years, until I retired in 2006. We had remained in contact since I retired--as friends. I was not aware of his recent downturn, and found out about his death only this AM when I saw it in the newspaper--so I really appreciate the chance to talk about our relationship. Robert was a kind, sensitive and gentle man, but had incredible courage in the face of his illness. He had to make many tough decisions--whether to have a transplant or not, whether to remove his spleen or not and more--and had consulted a whole spectrum of experts each with vastly different opinions about what he should do. Happily he had the facility of being able to make the right decisions for himself--and I was honored to support him in that. More importantly he never stopped reinventing his life in spite of the "rollercoaster ride" of his illness--growing in stature rather than diminishing in the face of chronic illness. People think that the life of an oncologist "must be so depressing". Though it always hurts deeply to lose a patient, that sadness is more than compensated for by the intensely human, emotionally satisfying relationships the oncologist has with his patients. The significance of Robert's life (and the life of most patients with cancer) is in what they can teach us about how to live, not about how to die. I learned much from Robert about how to live well despite adversity.

I wish I had known he was in the hospital--I wish I could have seen him one more time--I wish I could have told him how I felt about him once again--I wish I could have said goodbye--I do.
But I also know that these things were not necessary either for me or for Robert--he knew how I felt--and he will live always in my heart.

I hope his family will see these entries since I have no other way to contact them--my deepest sympathy goes out to his Mother and sister, and to all his friends as well.
Alan Newman

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

from Agnes Lord: "He Saved my Life"

Robert was my doctor briefly, then friend forever. My family and I will always remember Robert for his amazing character and grit. We first met 15 years ago in San Francisco – he was substituting for a doctor on vacation and I had a round rash on my chest and arm. He peered at my rash, left the room and returned with a physician’s encyclopedia; pointing to a photo in the tome, he pronounced I had Lyme Disease. You can imagine, I was quite nervous about this stranger doctor using an encyclopedia to make such a serious diagnosis – little did I know that this same doctor would later save me when the Lyme Disease attacked my kidneys and the entire Alta Bates Hospital ER staff couldn’t figure out what to do – this was Robert, immensely honest, intensely intelligent, with zero pretensions! When I asked for a second opinion that first day, he invited me to his home in the evening because his friend Jim Katzel, a Lyme Disease specialist, was visiting from Ukiah – somewhat unconventional and brazen – that’s Robert too – and was I glad I accepted! He later volunteered to work at a food event I managed because he wanted to meet people – he had left full-time medicine and was trying to find how he could make use of his love for food and cooking. The event for the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ annual conference, ”Hong Kong on San Francisco Bay,” reproduced the streets of Hong Kong in one of the empty Piers on the Embarcadero – because he was going through cancer treatment at the time, I asked the coordinator not to give him a strenuous job such as food service or clean up – instead Robert was assigned, with one other volunteer, to make rice -- a seemingly quick and easy task, but for all 1,200 guests, it turned out to be daunting!! He had to run from one end of the huge pier to another, to get water and to operate the rice cookers spread throughout. He was exhausted and didn’t have time to meet a single soul -- he never complained and even joked about it years later. After all, he found his role in the food industry – and what a role! – thanks to him, Americans will never again view chocolate as they had before! After he sold Scharffen Berger he told me he wanted to start a foundation to help people advocate in situations of medical need – he felt that his knowledge and persistence had helped him take much better care of himself, and that most people didn’t have that advantage – he would’ve changed the world with that work too. Dear Robert, you’ve pursued life with such gusto and courage in the face of your illness – and made this world such a much better place in so many ways -- we will never ever be down having experienced this with you!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

from Doug

Attached is a photo of Robert sitting outside in my backyard.

I knew and loved Robert long before he was a chocolatier. He and I were first year residents in Yale's Psychiatry residency program. We spent many evenings together cooking, eating, talking, and laughing. He was the better cook, but he never complained about my cooking. He dated Penny, a friend of mine. We used to party and go skinny dipping in the lake behind her house. Robert's chocolate expertise grew from his knowledge of chemistry and his love of cooking.

Robert discovered that Psychiatry was not to his liking, so he changed to Family Medicine. He was a wonderful doctor and deeply cared for his patients. I did not see him often after he moved to California, but we kept in touch. He was so happy when he met "this great woman, Rennea." He was conflicted about wanting a relationship but not wanting to burden anyone with his illness. I and my young son stayed with him in his San Francisco Texas Avenue apartment several years ago. The apartment was filled with books on chocolate, and he introduced us to his favorite California fruits and vegetables. He proudly took us to his first factory, and we sampled his ice creams (they never made it to market). I will always treasure my memories of Robert--his warmth, his humor, and his love of life. Goodbye my friend.

Doug Berv

Small Gathering for Robert

Yesterday during the afternoon some of Robert's friends gathered at my house. I called the names on a list he gave Renie and me with names and phone numbers of people who had volunteered to help when he had his last spleen operation. Some on the list did not know of his passing. It is odd to call someone and ask them to come for a gathering for Robert and they ask say "Yes! How is he doing?" and you have to announce such sad news.

We had about 30 or so people and what I originally thought may be odd because not everyone knew each other, turned out to be a wonderful party-like atmosphere where the central theme was Robert and of course all the people where interesting and good friends. We joked about how many ex-girlfriends were included in that bunch!
Thanks everyone that could come. We are actively preparing for the big one!

Who came? Judy and George (who took these pictures); Jane and Larry, Tony, Graciela, Amy, Carl, Jamie, Beth and friend, Brad and friend, Christian and friend, Susan and Peter, Virginia and Johathan, Lala and family, Raul and family, Eskender, Deborah, did I miss someone?

George, Jane, Lala and
Graciela, Tony making arepas. Carl and Amy encouraging good quality cuisine.
Jamie, Larry and Lala cheer-leading the arepa-making efforts.
Is this table Robert-approved?

Renie Joie

Amy, Rennea, Jamie, Eskender laughing about the following mini-films Robert and some of us this past New Year's Eve

Friday, September 19, 2008

from Rennea

I found Robert in the yellow pages and he became my family.

I needed a doctor to do the inmunizations for Skylr (6 mos).
Robert had plenty of openings and was close to my house, perfect!
A year later I received this letter that he was quitting!
I copy part of it:

"I think it is only fair to let you know that this decision was not made for trivial reasons. About a year and a half ago I was diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer o the lymph system. As time has passed, it has become clear that I will need some sort of treatment. The dual responsibility of caring for myself and caring for my patients would, I'm afraid, result in divided and unsatisfactory attentio to both.
To those of you whom I have seen recently and with whom I haven't discussed my plans, I apologize for my lack of communication. It was not until the last few days that it became clear how and when this transition would take place. I hope you can understand that this was an issue I did not want to raise until it was a certainty, rather than a possibility."

I needed an appointment quick to give Skylr more shots
and buy some time before I had to find another doctor.

We talked about his sickness and his decision.
I asked him out to a performance of Sankai Huku,
one thing led to another and here we are...
still friends, sharing many interests, adventures, sufferings,
raising my kids, always attentive and ready to prepare a meal.

He was family to us Renie Joie, Avery, Skylr and me.
In turn he gained a large family: my mom Elizabeth Losada,
my five siblings Johanna, Susanna, Bethina,
Anabella and Daniel Couttenye who all come
with partners and kids. And my grandmother Josefina
who happens to be the same age as Robert's mom Selma.

Added to that, he became friends with my friends:
Raul y Ana, Carl, Heidi and Hartmut, Betsey and Wells,
Isda, Thorina, Beatriz, Graciela and more
who developed close relationships with him.

We all know he was a people's man

In my kitchen on Dolores St. (he found this apartment for me!)

At his home in Potrero Hill before he remodeled,
He brought me this little hat from one of his trips.

In Bologna we ate a lot of prosciutto and drank ciocolatto con panna.
He had a terrible back ache, little did he know he had fractured
two ribs from to a seizure he had due to his first chemotherapy.

on one of our trips to Boonville, good food, beautiful drive!

with Raul walking around Stow lake (while Skylr went on his tricycle)

what should we do today? every week we had another adventure!

here it is a John and Janets home in Ukiah, pasta anyone?

at Isda's home for Thanksgiving, Heidi in the foreground.

with Beatriz and the kids at Costco

Robert being and absolute BABY!

from Jimmy Schuman

When Robert turned 50 he had a great party at Moxie's, Jeff Mason's restaurant. Here is the invitation created by Novella and there are somewhere amazing pictures of the chocolate cake Elizabeth Falkner made.

From Renie Joie

The road to your house is so familiar to me
But the way ahead is such a mystery
Mariposa exit- 2 minutes to you
Three weeks ago that would have been true
The keys in my hand still open your door
But when I call up to you don’t answer anymore
The mail is just the way that I left it
And the rest of the house is just as you kept it
Except for the Brita…..it now faces the right.

I am going to miss the talks we had
We’d talk about politics, school, medicine, health
You’d talk about you and I’d talk about me
You’d make gourmet snacks when we didn’t feel like working
And I’d reheat gourmet meals when you couldn’t do the cooking
You taught me so much from primaries to radishes
Who knew, but Robert, about watermelon radishes
Next lesson was fruit, that you’d teach me to pick
Those that were not ripe you wouldn’t touch with a stick
And the over-ripe bananas stayed on the sill

We ordered a movie to watch, Serendipity
And you were supposed to be there- to sit and watch with me
That was 2 days ago….not too long ago at all
I wish I could go back and tell you it all
Tell you I love you,
And that I will miss it ALL

from David Lebovitz

from a pastry chef and friend, a beautiful eulogy
Robert Steinberg

from his Venezuelan family

Elizabeth Losada Sept 18, 2008

Uno conoce durante su vida a muchas personas, algunas de ellas cuyo recuerdo siempre va a estar presente en nosotros y Robert es una de ellas.
No hizo falta que lo tratara mucho para sentir un verdadero aprecio por él pues siempre agradecí las atenciones y el apoyo que supo prodigar a mi hija Rennea y a todos sus hijos de una manera muy especial. Fué quien siempre estaba allí cuando hacía falta. Alguien dispuesto a ayudar, muy desprendido y generoso, alguien con tanta clase que los momentos , aunque breves, compartidos con él, eran una agradable experiencia digna de repetir.
Cuando vuelva de visita a San Francisco, seguro que voy a echar de menos las veladas y las cenas preparadas por él con las que exquisitamente nos regalaba pues Robert era un maravilloso anfitrión, pero estoy segura de que la tristeza va a quedarse en su propio lugar y que lo que siempre voy a recordar de él, son los buenos momentos compartidos, su don de gentes, su cortesía y su dulce y triste o tímida sonrisa.

Susanna Couttenye Sept 18, 2008

" Cuando pienso en Robert siempre me vienen sentimientos de cariño y agradecimiento. Cuando uno tiene familia lejos como es mi caso uno agradece infinitamente que existan personas que "suplan" ese espacio en el que uno quisiera estar pero que la distancia no permite.Y ese es el caso de Robert, siempre sentí que él era uno mas de nosotros por el cariño profundo y sincero que profesaba hacia mis seres mas queridos.
Me siento muy feliz de haber compartido una cena con él el año pasado donde reimos y disfrutamos enormemente junto con Rennea, Graciela y mi Mamá, lo tomaré como una Hermosa despedida.
Gracias Robert por siempre."

Johanna Couttenye Sept 18, 2008

Hace dias que Robert esperaba, sabía que cruzaría esa puerta. Ahora que la cruzó tengo la seguridad de que estará mejor. Su recuerdo no se marchará. Con nuestros recuerdos celebramos la amistad que compartimos con un gran hombren digno de admiración, solidario, siempre ahí cuando alguna vez lo necesitamos. Ahora seguirá estando con nosotros, pero en nuestros corazones y pensamientos. En su honor siento una gran gratitud pues fue alguien que nos supo a querer a todos en la familia pero en especial le agradezco por haberse cruzado en tu vida y en las de tus niños y haberles dado apoyo incondicional, amistad y amor.
Que la tristeza de su ausencia sea sólo por nuestro deseo egoísta de tenerlo a nuestro lado.
Celebremos la vida de un gran hombre! No sufran él está mejor y cumplió su misión.
Te quiere
PD Titi le dará la bienvenida

from Tony Natera

The other day I was driving pass the Scharffenberger chocolate factory across the street from my work, and caught a classic sight of three Japanese girls proudly taking pictures of themselves in front of the now historic building. After that day I started paying more attention and noticed that tour buses stop there on a regular basis, and that a steady stream of smiling-big tourists, walk into the facilities in order to indulge themselves in the rich substance that at one point in history even became the object of wars.

Precious chocolate, a hat for Felix, infinite love for children that are not his, poems, songs, meals and stories for others without regards for returns; love expresses itself in countless and often unpredictable ways. Being the frequent conduit of it is probably the greatest fulfillment of the human spirit. In that account Robert is definitely fully cleared for take-off.

Sept 17, 2008

Photos shared by Janet Arteaga

Bonjour Rennea,
I've been searching through John's pix and found these of Robert. This is last year when he made us dinner at Chez-Roh-bear ( Robert's house). They really show him doing what he loved so much. Just thought I'd pass them on, though a little blurry. Thanks for being there with Robert. Let us know when the celebration of his amazing life we happen. Peace and luv to you and your family.