my encounter with willy wonka

about a week or so ago (maybe a little more), i was working in the kitchen when a server (who is incidentally the nephew of one of my favorite professors) came to ask us what kind of chocolate we use for our cake. we used to use all scharffen berger, because it's good, and because it's local--you can't get much more local than just down the street--and because CL knows john and robert from the old days or whatever.

but the scharffen berger chocolate is effing expensive, and some of us like other chocolates so much better--i love valrhona and el rey, not to mention some really fabulous italian chocolates like amadei. heck, even CP uses callebaut. so, when we found out that scharffen berger SOLD OUT to hershey's, we decided to switch. i mean, if you are going to buy chocolate from a humongous corporation, it may as well be something that you really like, and that doesn't burn a hole in your pocket, right? suddenly, ol' SB didn't seem so local.

well, the server was waiting on robert steinberg and a guest, and said that they wanted to come talk to us in the kitchen. i couldn't control my mouth (surprise!) and told him to send them on in, and that i would answer any questions that they may have had.

well, they marched right on in, and i said hello, and they asked us why we were using valrhona, and i said that we used to buy their stuff, but when they sold to hershey's, we decided to switch to something more affordable, since localness wasn't really a part of the equation anymore.

i felt an argument coming on, and my heart started to race. lori and others who didn't want to see any bombs going off seemed to find things to do in other parts of the kitchen.

mr. steinberg and his employee tried to give me a guilt trip for buying venezuelan and belgian chocolate when i could be buying berkeley chocolate. ex-key-use me, but where the heck do you think your cacao comes from, buddy? ashby and san pablo? i don't think so! you told me yourself that you go down to venezuela to buy the beans. it's ALL venezuelan chocolate.

i told him about the first time i went down to the sb factory six years ago, after the woman who used to run it invited me down there. she gave me a tour, and her spiel about how SB is the smallest chocolate maker in the country, and the next largest chocolate company, hershey's, makes as much chocolate in one day as they make in one year. and now, after all of that anti-corporation bullshit that they spewed out at every single person who ever took a tour there for years, the went and SOLD OUT to the very company they were badmouthing on a daily basis.

i said, how do you think that makes us feel?

he said, but we are still the same company. we still do everything the same inside.

i asked him why he did it, why he sold the company, and he gave me this emotional account of how a person can never really know from the outside what is happening inside of a business, and though things might look one way from outside, they might be totally different on the inside. he said that frankly, he didn't know if the company would be able to survive if he hadn't sold.

i said, i can respect that. i am not judging you for your decision, and you can't judge us for ours. we too, have a struggling business here, and we have to make choices that are the best for us all-around. yes, there was some personal preference involved with the decision to switch chocolates, and the people who made those choices are leaving the restaurant soon. so i'd be happy to sample your chocolate again and reconsider using it. but please don't come here and attack us or insinuate that we do not support local purveyors, because our farmers, ranchers, bee-keepers, chicken growers, and everyone else we buy from are our family.

thank you.

so we shook hands, and they left, and i turned around and my heart nearly jumped out of my chest.

CL is convinced that they are going to go around town badmouthing us now.

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