Thursday, September 18, 2008

T.R.O.Y. Robert Steinberg

Posted By on Thu, Sep 18, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Dr. Robert Steinberg, co-founder of Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, died yesterday after a lengthy fight with lymphoma. He was a fine person and the best maker of chocolate I'll even know.

I worked at the Scharffen Berger factory for a little less than two years. A week into my job there, I went to a party in San Francisco and drank a lot. Just as I was getting into boorish obnoxious behavior, I turned around and who do I see standing there in a tuxedo but Robert, fresh from a benefit gala at some museum. I remember pummeling him with loud and sloppy conversation about recipe testing, and him listening patiently. Catastrophe averted.

I was lucky. Robert, to some, could come across as cranky. He had a passion for getting the facts straight, something that caused his chocolate-related writing to be wordy and dry at times. He knew more about the finer, technical points of cacao and chocolate than a lot of yahoos who claim to be chocolate experts will ever know, but he wasn't saucy about it.

I worked at Scharffen Berger during an interesting time, a period shortly before the company was sold to Hershey. It was a difficult choice for Robert and his SBCM co-founder John to make, but it was probably for the best—Scharffen Berger needed to grow, and it had grown all it could under those circumstances. It was like sending a kid away to college, terrifying but exciting. I extend a fat middle finger to those who accused Scharffen Berger of selling out.

Anyhow, that sort of talk might have been off-putting to Robert, so I'll cap it. I'm thankful for the chance I had to learn from him and the company he and John Scharffenberger started and led. Pastry chef and cookbook author David Lebovitz wrote some very kind and insightful words about Robert and his influence on chocolate in America in the last decade. It's worth a read. Robert, today I will eat a Scharffen Berger 70% Bittersweet bar just for you. It's still my favorite chocolate in the world.

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