Robert Steinberg

chocolate

The first time I ever really tasted chocolate, it was from a man I’d met in a dark alley. Actually, it wasn’t really a dark alley, but in a barren parking lot in a scruffy section of San Francisco.

I had taken a tour of an industrial bakery with a group of local baking enthusiasts, and afterward, a strange man sided up to me, pulled a wad of crumpled up foil out of his jacket pocket, and asked me if I wanted a taste.

Recoiling a bit, when he opened the crinkly foil, in the middle was a small nugget of something dark, sticky, and melted. When I stuck my finger in, then put it in my mouth, there was an explosion of flavor: dark and roasty, only slightly sweet, and very rich. It was pure chocolate, but unlike any other that I’d tasted before. I thought it was delicious.

He told me that he was going to start a chocolate company and make chocolate like this in small batches.

I thought he was insane.


I didn’t say anything, although in hindsight, I was the crazy one and should’ve handed over my life savings. What I had just tasted unleashed an astonishing wave of interest in American small-batch chocolates, one that I never would have predicted.

As Robert Steinberg launched his company, I became friendly with him and his business partner, John Scharffenberger, which coincided with my writing a book about chocolate. Before these two started making and selling their chocolate, most folks just bought chocolate from the store, unwrapped it, and either melted it down or ate it without giving it too much thought.

There were, of course, premium chocolates (mostly from Europe), but few people probably gave much thought to how they were made, who made them, or where. Living in San Francisco, here were two men making chocolate in our own backyard and San Franciscans quickly embraced their chocolate, as did the rest of America.

A lot of people liked Robert a lot. But there were certainly people that didn’t. He could be cranky, highly-opinionated and famously stubborn. People with strong opinions tend to have detractors as well as admirers. I was an admirer.

Robert would call pastry chefs during their busiest part of the day and bellow, “Why aren’t you using our chocolate? It’s better than what you’re using!”

He didn’t do that because he was trying to sell them chocolate. He did it because he truly felt his chocolate was better and couldn’t understand that if there was something better, how could they not be using it? I tried to explain that chefs are really busy people and calling them up, which he had an uncanny knack for doing at the absolute worst time in their shift, wasn’t a way to endear anyone to him or his chocolate. One day, I took him into the kitchen at Chez Panisse during the lunch rush, and he got it.

(So if you’re a pastry chef out there and were harassed by Robert, you have me to thank for the phone calls stopping.)

truffles

There’s a lot of bs thrown around in the chocolate industry, which is common in any business where there’s intense competition coupled with a lot of secrecy. (Roald Dahl got that right in Chocolate and the Chocolate Factory.) But whenever I had a question and needed a straight answer, without the spin, I’d call Robert.

Robert had been to the jungles to source beans, spent time meticulously roasting various varieties, ground them up, and carefully tasted each in search of a particular flavor profile. Robert wasn’t a showman: he was truly interested in sourcing the best beans and making a product that he was very, very proud of.

Robert, who was also a medical doctor as well, and did this while battling lymphoma, which he lived with for well over a decade. When I’d visit San Francisco and call him for a get-together, he’d invariably say, “Let’s meet for lunch at 1:00. I have chemo at 9, but I should be done in time.” And sure enough, he’d show up, looking and acting more chipper than I.

This morning when I woke up, I had a flurry of e-mails with the words “Robert Steinberg” in the subject line. And I knew he’d died.

A few years ago, he and John sold their company is a very high-profile way, to a very big corporation for a lot of money. He stayed on for a while as a consultant, then left. In spite of all the online ranting, I knew Robert, and knew that it was an extremely difficult decision for him.

I’d asked him about a year ago to write an article for this site about fair-trade chocolate. As someone who’d spent time in the jungles of cocoa-producing countries, of course he had a lot of first-hand knowledge about it. It was (and is) an important subject that I felt uncomfortable spouting facts about, especially since he told me that some of the claims are rife with inaccuracies. Naturally, Robert had some very strong opinions about it, which I had hoped he would share.

A few months of unanswered e-mails, I didn’t think he’d ever get around to it and gave up pestering him. Like the stubborn man that he could be, Robert took that information with him.

What he left behind was that he and John dedicated themselves to making chocolate on a very small-scale, which has not only become part of the mainstream, with artisan chocolates now available in supermarkets, but has spawned a steady stream of new chocolate-makers, following in Robert’s footsteps.

When I’m asked, “Which country makes the best chocolate?” I always answer the same thing: America.

It’s not necessarily because if asked, in a blind tasting, an American chocolate would come out on top. But I have great admiration for people who decide to become chocolate-makers and there’s something about their pioneering spirit that really moves me. To this day, I’m far more interested in tasting a rough, coarse-tasting chocolate someone mashed up in their garage than a fancy imported chocolate, slipped from a shiny wrapper, that’s smooth and flawless.

If it wasn’t for Robert, the chocolate aisle in America would be a much sadder place than it is today. Even if you’re not a fan of their chocolate, they changed the way we view chocolate. Now, one can pick up a tablet of chocolate and say, “Hey, I know the guy that made this!” Scharffen Berger always opened the doors to their factory to the public. And even after the sale, the tradition continued.

I was really fortunate to know Robert and had the pleasure of watching him make chocolate, swooning over a luscious spoonful of the sticky, half-crushed cocoa beans stuck to the spoon that he’d dip in the machine then hand over to me, and learning how to be a more perceptive and thoughtful taster. Perhaps he impacted many of you out there as well.

So thanks to Robert. Because of him, I, as well as many chocolate-lovers and pastry chefs, have broadened and expanded how we buy, taste, and enjoy chocolate. Although I’m still a little miffed about not getting that article, and I’m certain he’d be too.

He would have wanted the last word, especially when it came to something that he was so passionate about—chocolate.

69 comments

  • Thank you, Robert, for your life and for your amazing chocolate. It’s my chocolate of choice–why have anything else when you can have the best?–and I’ve made converts out of many folks. More accurately, it wasn’t I who made any converts–it was the Scharffen Berger chocolate.

    Thank you, David, for your memories of Robert. Your article is a wonderful eulogy.

  • What a nice tribute! We have a great local family owned chocolate maker here in San Diego – Guanni Chocolates – that would be right up your alley. They make their own chocolate from the beans and flavor the concoctions with native Peruvian ingredients like Pisco Brandy and Lucuma. They sell at the local farmers markets and have a website at http://www.guannichocolates.com. I’d love to send you some, but I don’t think they’d survive the long journey while it’s still so warm here. Maybe in the winter!

  • David, that is one of the most touching pieces I’ve ever read. I’m sorry for your loss. He seemed like a truly amazing person.

  • That is a lovely tribute David. Such a pity he didn’t get to share his thoughts on the Fair Trade issue. I’m sorry for your loss.

  • Very moving tribute David, take care

  • What a beautifully written memorial. Thank you for sharing your memories and capturing the essence of a great man.

  • david, thank you for writing such a stirring and personal piece. i have a feeling that i’ll not be able to shop for chocolate without being reminded of robert steinberg again.

  • Thank you ever so much for your gorgeous, and truthful tribute to Robert.

    I heard the news first thing this morning, and although I am in London right now for amazing reasons, I am sad not to be home as well where I might be able to share my grief with others who knew him as I did.

    You have inspired me to write my own tribute as well. I’m not sure I ever was on his list of do-not-call-during-service though, because camped out at Citizen Cake day after day for the entire two years I worked there, to nudge me as only my Yenta could, about his chocolate and cocoa.

    Every time I talk about cocoa I hear his voice in my head, for better and for worse. Because, as you said so well, Robert believed in educating us all about why not merely because.

  • Beautiful post, David. Thanks for sharing your memories of the creator of my favorite chocolate.

  • All my condolences, David, for the loss of your friend!

    I owe Robert Steinberg my confidence and my happiness, as I had many disappointing nibbles looking for “The Chocolate” when I came to America.

  • David, that has to be the best tribute to anyone that I have ever read. Thank you for capturing that spark of a man who had such a profound influence on how we view chocolate here in America. And thank you for sharing it with the rest of us. He sounds like a brilliant and dedicated man and he will surely be missed.

    I am so sorry for your loss.

  • What a lovely way to honor your friend– a man who, in his own chocolatey way– touched all of us.

  • I took the Scharffen Berger factory tour a couple of years ago, and it was one of the highlights of my trip to San Francisco. It was very informative, fun, and they were generous with the free samples!

    On a more serious note, the short lecture before we went out onto the factory floor was very informative. A lot of work goes into growing and harvesting cacao beans, much of which has to be done by hand. Knowing this increased my appreciation chocolate all the more, and made me conscious of buying excellent chocolate from socially responsible producers, which Scharffen Berger is.

    Thank you for the lovely tribute.

  • I’m sorry for your loss. Sinceres condoléances.

  • My condolence for the lost of your friend, may he rest in peace!
    You wrote such a beautiful tribute David.

  • Thanks for making me cry at work. Now I have to go out and buy some chocolate.

  • My pantry is never without a spare block or two of Scharffen Berger 62%. And from this day forth my pantry will never be without the story of the man who helped put it there. Thanks for sharing these special words with us.

  • Wonderful tribute, David. The amazing thing about his story is how chocolate wasn’t a niche product, it’s so obvious, yet Steinberg came in with his passion for it and elevated everyone’s idea of it and expectations for it. Now you go into any corner store and there’s 3 or 4 brands of quality chocolate for sale – with the % in a large font. Thank you, Robert Steinberg!

  • Beautifully written memoir & tribute to what seems like an amazing man. Such a pity he didnt do the fair trade article. sorry for your loss. and thanx for sharing xxx

  • David, thank you so much for sharing your memories. I have an even deeper appreciation for their wonderful chocolate.

  • When I saw “Robert Steinberg” on your Facebook post, I knew he had died, and I am very sad indeed. Your post is so eloquent and touching.

    A few years ago, when chefs Suvir Saran and Hemant Mathur were at Amma restaurant (before Dévi, where they now preside), I was traveling alone to New York City. I was invited to be a guest for dinner at Amma, and Hemant sent one luxurious dish after another to my table. Behind me, a gentleman and a young woman were talking about films, and “Lost in Translation” (one of my favorite films ever) popped into the talk. I didn’t intend to eavesdrop, but couldn’t help but listen to their articulate conversation—especially the man. Something about his voice was so warm and intelligent, and I wondered if he was from the Bay Area. Don’t ask me why: it was just a feeling.

    Soon, Chef Mathur came out to my table and asked if I would introduce myself to the man and woman, and convey to them his appreciation for their visit, as he felt his English was not adequate. “They” were Robert Steinberg and Karen DeMarco: she, the pastry chef at Craft restaurant. My brief greetings and appreciation from Hemant turned into a chat that lasted an hour. It was one of the most pleasant chance encounters of my life, and not just because I got to express my own zealous adoration of Scharffen Berger chocolate, my long-time favorite, to The Man.

    I have a theory about “Lost in Translation” that the strangers met in Japan, a country very much on a grid—both horizontal (the speeding trains) and vertical (ambition and tall buildings)—because they were both off the grid. Having neither ambition nor destination allowed them to float freely and see things that others, whizzing by and tightly focused, missed. Thus their own chance encounter.

    Sharing this with Robert and Karen made us reflect on our own meeting. Both gave me business cards, and invited me to join them at their places of work sometime. Alas, I am sorry to say that I never made it up to the chocolate factory for Robert’s personal tour. I have long regarded our meeting with great fondness, and a certain kind of yearning, as he had so impressed me with his gentleness and warmth. I can believe that he had other aspects, but basking in the glow of a superb dinner, good wine, and good company, everything but one’s best self melts away. I was fortunate to have encountered the great man under these circumstances, and regret not having made the opportunity to visit again.

    Rest in peace, Robert. And yes, your chocolate is miraculous.

  • I am saddened by the loss, but grateful of his contribution to the world of chocolate. Thank you for the tribute.

  • I’ve loved Scharffen Berger chocolate for a long time, and now I think I know why: it was the heart I was tasting, along with the bean. Since I’ve been living in France I’ve never found a baking chocolate I like as well as Scharffen Berger, and that’s saying a whole hell of a lot.

    We all owe him, even those of us who never had a chance to shake his hand.

  • Robert was endearing and challenging in equal measure. I liked Robert because he was a true believer. His pursuit of truth and right was relentless and the only time he departed from those values was when he had an opportunity to make a point to the contrary. It was fun. It was maddening. It was a privilege and he will be well missed.

    Thank you for the remembrance. It was kind and fair.

  • your tribute is truly moving, but i am so saddened to hear this news. i met robert very briefly during a signing of his “essence of chocolate” book. i was initially a bit intimidated by him, but his warm, genuine demeanor quickly put me at ease. a true loss for the chocolate world.

  • Just as many Americans now call for their salad dressing by an iconic film star’s name (as in “Pass the Paul Newman, please”), so do many in the Bay Area call for their chocolate by summoning the Scharffenberger name. In our household, one of those large baking bars is a pantry staple, and when it’s down to a nub, one of us nudges the other, saying, “Oh, time for a new Scharffen Berger.” I was very touched by your beautiful tribute to Dr. Steinberg, a real Renaissance man.

  • How ill it befits you to be the bearer of such horrible news. I saw Robert a while back, and he said he was tired, so I tried not to think about it. He was one of the kindest and loveliest men I know in a business with more than a share of kind and lovely people. I always had the tiniest crush on him. I hope he knew. We are reduced. He was magnificent in so many ways.

  • David:
    What a lovely tribute to Robert and his exceptional life. You captured him so well and it makes me smile to remember his kindness and how crankily opinionated he could be. I’m glad you showed him the CP kitchen at lunch rush — I well remember the comments of irate pastry chefs who were recipients of calls or surprise in-person visits from him! The last time I talked to Robert was at the Golden Glass event at Fort Mason this past summer — a glass of wine in hand, surveying the food and the crowd, and looking so well and happy.

  • Thank you for bearing this sad news in such a touching manner.

    Robert was always such a gracious gentleman to me whenever we met. It seemed we were fond of so many of the same restaurants and I always appreciated the time he took to say hello, swap foodie news or make mutual introductions of our dining companions.

    I never got the “challenging” side of his personality–perhaps because I’m as plain-spoken as he could be. Or perhaps he appreciated our display of his chocolate in our store. On his visit, he crowed that he had never seen his chocolate merchandised with priority over (Insert your fine French couverture names here).

    I’m grateful to have known him as well.

  • David,
    To those of of us who couldn’t express it as well, thank you for poignantly reminding us how special and amazing Robert was. Kind eyes. Mischievous grin. A man who was passionate about chocolate, and compassionate about the folks who made it, be they the family growers in the tropics or the patient and diligent women who first handwrapped those Scharffenberger bars in that oh, so elegant, yet difficult to fold paper.
    He challenged those in the food business to re-define what is ‘natural’, what is ‘artisanal'; and did it eloquently. He helped me to raise the bar on what I expect from the food I work with and the food I serve.

  • Oh dear. I met him at Central Market years ago when he traveled the country, teaching classes about his chocolate. It was his passion. I learned so much and gained such respect for him and the company. His legacy lives on, I hope…

  • Oh dear, he will certainly be missed. I remember when Scharffen-Berger first opened its factory in Berkeley, I would practically kidnap people to go on the factory tours and I would light up when I got a glimpse of Robert Steinberg. [No one ever pressed charges; each person I took on the tour was enchanted.] I loved the story of how he and John met and got together to rock the American chocolate world.

    My only consolation when Hershey bought Scharffen-Berger was that Robert Steinberg was staying on to guide the chocolate art and science.

    I owe a great debt to Robert Steinberg, as I had never before thought of chocolate as I have since my first Scharffen-Berger tour, though I have always loved chocolate.

    Thank you for writing a lovely remembrance of this dear man, and my condolences to you and others who knew him for this loss.

  • I was really fortunate to have used Robert’s product when he had control of it.
    It was like an ephiphany for me. This wonderful thing that he helped put forth changed many people’s perception of what chocolate is and what it can be.
    I am always sad to see cancer claim someone talented.
    Great tribute David.

  • Your accepting and appreciating him for the person he was, and this great essay on how his passion for his work had an impact on you is honoring him in the best possible way. Too bad he never wrote that article for you. I’m sure it would have been a good one.

  • I am so sorry for you loss.
    Last week I went to a cooks store and bought my first bar of Scharffen Berger chocolate. That bar of chocolate means something now after having the privledge of reading your wonderful tribute, thanks.

  • Thank you for sharing your memories of Robert Steinberg and for reminding us how much he contributed to elevating chocolate to a sublime level here in the United States. He will be missed.

  • Great post, did you have a chance to see John Scharffenberger’s statement about your friend at http://www.scharffenberger.com/johnstatement.asp

  • I just googled Robert’s name and found yourwebsite. I have only seen Robert once when he came to stay at my house in MA. I was a friend of his friend who helped start him on his chocolate quest. Though he knew him less personally than some of the people who commented, I was always so in awe of Robert starting a chocolate business. I met him in 1990 and knew he had been battling illness for several years. It takes an incredible person to start up a business in mid life and pull it off. Many people dream but never are able to reach their dream as Robert did. Due to his inquiring mind, intellect, and passion for food, he stuck to it and reached his dream. My hat goes off to Robert. He will live on in the minds of his frriends, family, business associates and all who learn about his life. I hope to shake his hand and give him a big hug next time around.

  • That photo of the truffles is excellent.

  • I’m sorry for your loss and to his family. He was very young and it’s sad to read about this. You were very lucky to have known him firsthand, and we could tell by your enthusiasm for chocolate that he’s had an impact on your life.

  • This makes me very sad…I had the privilege of working a few times with him at Cafe Cacao and held him in very high regard. Sad day…Alise

  • From a loyal lurker: I just love whatever and however you write. And this was really to the point and from the heart. I am sorry about your loss and I have hisfamily and friends in mind as well. “zichrono l’bracha” = may his memory be for a blessing.
    Ilana

  • Thanks for all your kind comments. I’ve gotten a number of them from pastry chefs who knew him as well, and it was pretty amazing that something that he did touched so many of us.

    Perhaps my favorite remembrance of him was when I was writing the chocolate book and met up with him to ask him a question about chocolate and antioxidants. People are a bit obsessed with chocolate and it’s health benefits, and I thought it best to verify what was being espoused.

    So I asked him one day; “Robert, what do you think about all this information and the studies about chocolate and health?”

    Robert waited about two seconds, slammed his hand on the table (hard), looked at me, and said, “You know what…I just don’t understand why can’t people just eat chocolate and enjoy it. It’s a pure food—can’t people just be happy with that?”

    I agreed with him and didn’t quite have an answer, but I do know that there was much more truth in that statement than all those silly scientific studies. And that was another thing I’ll miss about him: he just cut to the chase, and it was hard to argue that kind of reasoning.

  • I knew and loved Robert long before he was a chocolatier. He and I were first year residents in Yale’s Psychiatry residency program. Psychiatry was not for Robert, so he changed to Family Medicine. He was a wonderful doctor and deeply cared for his patients. Robert’s chocolate expertise grew from his knowledge of chemistry and his love of cooking. We spent many evenings together cooking, eating, talking, and laughing. I did not see him often after he moved to California, but we kept in touch. 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 remember Robert for his warmth, his humor, and his love of life. If any reader knows how I can get in touch with his sister Nancy please let me know: douglas.berv@yale.edu

  • Dear David:

    Thank you for the touching tribute to Robert Steinberg. It just so happened that I took a tour of the Scharffen Berger factory yesterday. The tour guide informed us of his death, after he told us the story of how Robert Steinberg came about wanting to make chocolate.

    The reason I even went to the tour was because I read your book on chocolate. Then I read Alice Medrich’s book, Bittersweet. Both of you wrote so much about the company and their chocolate that I felt I had to see what it was like since free tours were open to the public. (It wasn’t until after the tour did I find out they had sold the company a few years ago to Hershey.)

    So again thank you. Your blog is fun to read and is making me want to bake again. I stopped baking after college 30 years ago due to living in small apartments in Berkeley.

    Janet

  • Thank you for all the memories you have of Dr. Steinberg that you’ve allowed us to know. I now feel comfortable commenting after your last memory, David. I rather liked that his passion drove him to barge into everyones lives to drag them on his journey. His answer that the pleasure of chocolate is reason enough to like it is fitting at this time. Life is too short.

  • I knew Robert just briefly, but like one of your other readers, he made such a deep, warm impression that I’d like to share it. A mutual friend introduced me to Robert (via phone or mail) shortly before I left for a personal sabbatical to Paris in the fall of 1994. We had a brief but intense correspondence — much of it his advice about what to do, and eat, in Paris. I remember he advised me the best way to experience the place was to just wander. Simple advice, but so true. The first and only time we met in person was when he came to France to begin studying chocolate making. I can still recall a long stroll along the Seine with him. He overflowed with excitement about pursuing chocolate. It seemed a little crazy — leaving medicine for chocolate? The possibility of romantic involvement was present, but I was young and naïvely frightened of getting involved with someone whose days seemed numbers. I don’t know if Robert would have remembered this, or remembered it any differently, but it is one of those life-enhancing brief encounters that I look back to often. I still have a tiny book he gave me, Robert Merton’s “Zen and the BIrds of Appetite.” It was only a couple of years ago, and quite by accident, that I learned of his success in the chocolate world and that he seemed to be thriving. I was happy to hear that this thing that seemed to be a chocolate fantasy back in 1994 actually bloomed into a huge success. I was even happier to know that he was still alive. I intended to return the book to him with a letter, but somehow never did.

    Knowing Robert for just a few months, and mostly via his lovely, evocative handwritten letters, was a gift. I celebrate his courage to use the lymphoma as a teacher, to change his course and to live out his life doing what he loved. Wherever you are, Robert, I hope there’s something like chocolate there…

  • Thank you for this eloquent tribute. You’re right – although I’d used Callebaut, Cocoa Barry and Valrhona when I was a pastry chef, those chocolates were clearly the domain of the professional, something that really didn’t change until Steinberg and Scharffenberger created their homegrown artisanal chocolates and unleashed them on the masses. They were all over the food magazines and everyone knew about them.

    You’re lucky to have known him.

  • Thank you for sharing your personal story about Robert Steinberg. I have long been a fan of Sharffen Berger chocolate. I read ‘Essence of Chocolate’ cover to cover in just about one sitting and have great admiration for what they took on and accomplished with the company. Earlier this week I wrote about how much we as consumers have benefited from the emergence of all the specialty chocolates on the market these days and Robert Steinberg is one of the people we have to thank. I think I will make some bon bons this weekend and appreciate what he left for all of us to enjoy.

  • Hi David and everyone who’s life was touched by Robert.

    I am a chocolate lover and was his girlfriend during the period he left family practice and the whole idea of the chocolate started mulling in his head. We used to sit and describe why we liked this chocolate over the other and how this melted in our mouths or not. I’m from Venezuela, introduced him to people who knew others in the cacao business and the next thing you know, voilá!!

    We’ve been friends for over 18 years and was lucky to be with him on his moment of death.

    Although most people that read this blog are chocolate people I’d like to just pull him out from this circle just for a moment. He would tell me he was tired of saying who he was because immediately people would ask: you are the doctor that …. etc etc. He had to repeat stuff like a broken record.

    Anyway, I want to highlight his compassion for people, his genuine interest in people and their well-being. In every thing that he did, whether chocolate or bandaging a cut, sitting at the Zen hospice, or drawing or making a simple meals, the care that went into every detail and everyone that was a part of the process was what made him so attractive. I want to be friends with this guy!.

    David, your writing is beautiful. These days I’m meeting so many of his friends that I knew just from his stories. it’s great! he touched soooo many of us!

    A group of close friends are planning memorial ceremony. If you are in the Bay Area or are interested to come I’ll be posing details at the following blog:
    http://doctor-chef.blogspot.com/
    good day to all!
    Rennea

  • Julia Child celebrated her 90th birthday with a series of cooking classes in private homes around Santa Barbara. The purpose was, ostensibly, to raise money for her foundation. I think, really, it was to indulge her passions of cooking, eating, talking, talking, and enjoying fun company.

    I was priveleged to have been included in the chocolate baking class that she and Robert gave. It was a delightful and delicious afternoon. Robert, a genius and a teacher, gave such memorable lessons on chocolate that today, almost ten years later, they are still with me. And he obviously delighted in the repartee with his great friend Julia. I treasure my memories of that afternoon.

  • What a beautiful tribute, David. Thank you for writing it.

  • That was beautiful eulogy – not only are you a talented talented writer with food knowledge that inspires me, but you have sensitivity that I can only admire.

    I never knew Robert, but know of him – thanks to you, I know a little more about him.

    Thanks so much.

  • David,
    thanks for the tribute. I wish I had met Robert, what an amazing visionary. I bought the Scharffen Berger book and read it front to back, it is so fun to read and inspirational.

    As a pastry chef I have tasted many chocolates but my favorite is Scharffen Berger. It has a kick to it, no weird after taste and a pure chocolate flavor.

    I have made your chocolate pave’ with many different chocolates, but it only tastes perfect to my palate when made with Scharffen Berger chocolate. BTW, your pave’ recipe is unbelievable, I have tried dozen different flourless chocolate cake recipes but I always go back to the pave’ served with cardamom icecream.

    Laura

  • David,
    I’m so glad I found your site again after moving back to Europe four years ago –
    you were the one who started my addiction with Scharffenberger chocolate, once read an article about the factory in Berkeley, took a tour there and was immediately hooked.
    Even now, back here I’m importing Scharffenberger chocolate….all my friends back in the Bay Area know what to send me when the cravings hit me ;-)

  • What a wonderful tribute David. I will never forget meeting John and Robert and tasting their chocolate for the first time. Your essay has done honor to a great and passionate man. The world would definitely be a little less refined without his contribution!

  • I’ve been out of town, so found out about Robert’s death when a friend forwarded a link to your post. What a wonderful tribute. I knew Robert slightly and have always been impressed by his passion, energy and desire to really create the best that he could. I hope I can carry some of that with me for the rest of my life.

  • I love this chocolate- but didn’t know its story.
    No wonder its so good- it was started by a passionate man with lots of love.
    Thank you for such a beautiful post,

  • scharffen berger chocolate really has made a difference in my life/ cooking, as I’m sure is true with so many others. When I first had a taste, I realized it was the first time I actually appreciated chocoate and didn’t just, as you say, unwrap the package and take a bite. I also, didn’t know the full back story of the company, and this is always good to know. Thanks for such a lovely homage

  • Hello,

    I’m glad to have found your blog and this post. I was also fortunate to have known Robert and wrote about him in my blog. You might be interested to see the “kitchy” photo I took too. :)

    A bien tot,

    Susie

  • Wow – as Robert’s stepsister, I am touched by David’s blog posting and amazed by the 60 plus comments, many from folks who knew him personally. Thanks all.
    He will be missed.

  • When I saw Robert’s name on your posting I knew he had died. Robert and I were doctors together in San Francisco in the 80’s, and reconnected 6-7 years ago. By that time he had had his lymphoma for a number of years, and he had taken his courageous step of leaving his medical career to act on his dream and start a chocolate company. He later gave a truly memorable Valentine’s day hospital grand rounds on the health effects of chocolate and wine (together with Dr. Art Klatsky of Oakland Kaiser), a presentation doctors still mention years later.

    As David and others have said, the pleasure of chocolate was enough for him, he didn’t evangelize the as yet unproven health benefits of chocolate. Robert was a smart doctor and he knew the score about his lymphoma, but he continued to live his life fully, with courage. The flame of his life lives on in the light it kindled in others.

  • Yesterday I was in Albertson’s of all places, and what did I see but a bar of Scharffen Berger chocolate. I bought several of them, and did a happy dance right in the aisle knowing I would now have an easier time finding them. It seemed too good to be true.

    Alas, it WAS too good to be true. In my excitement, I never noticed that the bars had expired way back in January. I took them back to the store, and after getting my refund, made what I figured was going to be a futile attempt to find an in-date bar, since it was SOOO outdated.

    I realized I missed the 99% ones, because they were one shelf up and several feet to the right of the other 2 facings. I reached up to grab one, and was rewarded with a dusty hand after picking it up, and a large dust bunny that fell off of it and amused my 3 year old. It expired a month before the ones I bought did. There were at least 50 bars of SB chocolate there, and every single one was at least 8 months out of date and the ones on the top shelf were filthy.

    I was angry at the store for missing out-dates for so long, and having such dirty product, but I am outraged about the lack of regard and total waste of such amazing chocolate. Five hours later, and I’m still in such a snit, my husband can’t figure out why I’m so angry about it.

    Oh, yeah, they’re discontinued at Albertson’s. They will not be getting any more in. Great in my book, because obviously they’re not worthy.

  • David-
    I don’t know if you know this, but there was a lovely obit today in the LA Times:
    Robert Steinberg Obituary

  • What a lovely tribute and I regret it has taken this long for me to post. I met Robert years ago, when I was to be the first Pastry Chef at Absinthe Brasserie. I was told that we would use his chocolate although it was unreliable and new at the time, and I was thrilled.

    All of the things you said about him were so right – calling and showing up at just the wrong time, but being so passionate about chocolate and open to hear what worked and what didn’t. I remember making repeated calls about un-tempered blocks of chocolate in those early days, and Robert always took those calls seriously.

    A few years ago I did a stint as the Pastry Chef at Cafe Cacao right next to the factory and had the pleasure of being able to work with Robert again. Even though he was clearly ill, he still came to debate and critique – oh the never ending critiques! – on a regular basis. Of course, you knew that when you received a compliment that it was true, as those were few and far between.

    The world is lesser place without him.

  • David,
    What a lovely tribute.
    I used to live in Albany, very close to the factory. And I can still close my eyes and feel the wonderful smell. I remember going there twice for the factory’s visit, and taking even my parents there.
    It still is my favorite chocolate and I will remember its taste wherever I live. Be it in Paris, the US or back in Brazil.
    Thanks for sharing your lovely story.
    Lívia

  • The chocolate is a classic, as is Roald Dahl’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

    I can’t remember who I met, but it was either Robert or John, in the only place in America where cacao is grown. It’s the same place where they grow coffee, tea and vanilla. Scoping it out or vacation? This was in 2003 or 2004.

  • I’m just left speechless, this tribute was obviously written with as much care and love as Mr. Steinberg put in his chocolate.

  • I lived right near the Scharffenberger Berkeley factory for many years so I was spoiled. But moved to Texas three years ago and was happily surprised to find it in the cooking aisle at our local HEB. Who’d have thought? So I thank Robert for making it possible to bake well in Austin. Now if I could just find a baker to make bread like I used to get when I lived in Montpellier and Aix, I would truly be in heaven.