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 m├ętier, 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.