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.

shared by John Arteaga

Robert with one of his best friends Jimmy Schuman - friends from college

Articles Robert today Sept 19

from NPR, interview with John Scharffen Berger

from the NY Times, his obituary by Dennis Hevesi
Robert Steinberg, Chocolat Maker, dies at 61

from Scharffen Berger, by John Scharffenberger
Statement by John Scharffen Berger

from the Boston Globe, article by Sherryl Julian
The World Loses an Artisan

from Serious Eats, by friend Ed Levine
In Memory of Robert Steinberg, Scharffen Berger Chocolate Co-founder

Thursday, September 18, 2008

To our Friend

On Sept 17, a little before 4 in the afternoon Robert's intermittent gasping stopped as a group of us watched him. We stood there for a while waiting to see if he would take one more breath. His arm moved a little upwards, his thumb trembled and his face leaned like the statue of La Pietá. (I know he would have laughed at this notion.) That was it!

The purpose of this blog is to let the thousands of friends/ aquaintances know
what is being prepared to honor his life
to share anecdotes, comments, pictures, loves, accomplishments, complaints, or anything that gives a glimpse to your connection with Robert.