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The world loses an artisan

Posted by Sheryl Julian  September 18, 2008 05:23 PM

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Robert Steinberg, co-founder with John Scharffenberger of Scharffen Berger chocolates, a former family physician and San Francisco resident raised in Boston, died yesterday. He had lymphoma for a decade.

Tributes are being emailed around the country. Here's one from David Lebovitz, former Chez Panisse pastry chef now living in Paris.

I had dinner with Robert in the spring when I was in San Francisco visiting my childhood friend, Jane Reed. She and Robert are dear friends, and he came over to her house in Noe Valley. (The line in their household, when she or her husband, Larry, have a frustrating experience at a restaurant or market, is "Call Robert and tell him to fix it!" The reason is that Robert simply knew everyone everywhere, and most of them listened to him.)

Jane met Robert when he was practicing family medicine. Then he was diagnosed and closed his practice. He met John Scharffenberger, founder of Scharffenberger Cellars, and the two decided to start an artisan chocolate company. Friends were skeptical and no one predicted that it would turn out to be the outstanding chocolate they eventually produced. He'd go to South America looking for beans and bring his own chemotherapy, which he administered to himself. That was before 9/11.

A few years ago Hershey's bought out Scharffen Berger chocolates. Robert stayed on and consulted and wouldn't say much about the sale. We all hoped he made out like a bandit.

A good soul, a smart and thoughtful man, a ball of energy. My friend Jane said, "I called him the Comeback Kid. But this time he isn't coming back."

About Dishing

What's cooking in the world of food.


Sheryl Julian, the Globe's Food Editor, writes regularly for the Food section.

Devra First is the Globe's food reporter and restaurant critic. Her reviews appear weekly in the Food section.

Ellen Bhang reviews Cheap Eats restaurants for the Globe and writes about wine.

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