Chocolate Cheers: Chocolatinis made with white chocolate, Godiva liqueur, and chocolate flakes on the rims inspired the night’s theme.
A reason to double dip: Chocolate fondue was another highlight of the evening, served alongside trays of biscuits, fresh pineapple, grapes, apples, and homemade marshmallows.
Sweet Favors: Guests went home with a sampling of martini chocolates, all custom-made at the Chocolate Lounge.
When a passionate chocolate lover wanted to plan a fun Valentine’s Day get-together to celebrate her girlfriends, she turned to event planner Jennifer Orsini of Pampered Bride Weddings in Springfield. Orsini instantly envisioned chocolatinis, South Beach-style. “She had been to so many cookie-cutter events,” says Orsini. “This one had to be special!”
So what better way to warm up the winter—and the hearts and stomachs of your gal pals—than a chocolate party with a sophisticated tropical flair? To create a memorable event, special ambience was required—the host’s living room or a local restaurant weren’t going to cut it for the location. Instead, Orsini headed straight to the Donna Toscana Chocolate Lounge in Cranford, where Diane Pinder creatively crafts her signature custom chocolates. The lounge, which is open Thursday through Saturday night for after-dinner coffee, custom-made chocolates, cake, and ice cream, can also be transformed into your own private party space.
“The setting was swanky, but intimate and casual. Guests were able to mingle and enjoy chocolate treats.”
Chocolate was the main theme—starting with the invitation (surely no one could turn down the promise of sweet treats!) and culminating in a night full of friends, fun, gossip, and, of course, chocolate fondue, chocolatinis, chocolate candies, chocolate cake, and chocolate favors.
But these weren’t your average sweets. Pinder isn’t interested in ordinary flavors or run-of-the-mill chocolates. Hers is a much more sophisticated palate, resulting in some of the most delectable confections you’ll ever sample. Who knew her signature olive-oil and sea-salt chocolate could be so good?
To set the sophisticated South Beach mood, Orsini brought in white leather banquettes and lighted Lucite coffee and end tables from Jersey Street Furniture Rentals, candles, and tropical-inspired florals by A Touch of Elegance, all decorated in shades of white and aqua with hints of chocolate brown. “The setting was swanky, but also intimate and casual,” says Orsini.
Chocolatinis were served alongside chocolate fondue with homemade marshmallows, biscuits, and fresh fruit for dipping. The chocolate cake was decorated with martini glasses in shades of blue, white, and brown, and martini-glass favors were the pièce de résistance. Everyone was delighted to bring home a glass filled with chocolate confections: the white chocolate Cosmo had dark chocolate and cranberry vodka inside; the dark chocolatini was filled with ganache and vodka; and the milk-chocolate appletini contained apple purée with apple vodka.
All flavors were custom-crafted by Pinder, who originally started experimenting with chocolate because she couldn’t find a brand good enough for her gift-basket company. After studying with New Jersey chef Craig Shelton and perfecting her craft of Tuscan-style chocolate in Florence, Italy, chocolates clearly became her passion, and she left the gift-basket business behind.
Pinder starts her creations with high-quality Belgian chocolate as the base, and then her magic begins. “I always work with clients to create a flavor they like,” she says. Recent concoctions include an Earl Grey tea-infused chocolate decorated with cocoa butter in the colors of a local bride’s wedding. For another, she decorated the tops of the chocolates with the Japanese symbol of love, which was specifically requested by the client. Everything is geared toward the customers and their individual tastes.
So what did Orsini’s client think about her girls’ Valentine’s Day get- together? “She was so excited,” says Orsini. “Having gone to school in Florida and vacationing in South Beach so many times, she just loved how we brought the vibe to New Jersey.”
And as for the chocolate? “Well, that was simply perfect,” says Orsini. “Who doesn’t love a delicious chocolatini?” Or two…or three.
Elements of Style
So what details are essential for any successful party? The first step is to choose the right location for your event. Are you inviting ten people or 100? Will it be inside or out? Is it for a sit-down meal or casual hors d’oeuvres? Do you need a bar or will you pass cocktails?
“Always think of your guests and their comfort,” advises event planner Jennifer Orsini. “You also want to make sure there’s plenty of food and drink.”
When it comes to decorating, coordination is an important factor. “Pick a color scheme and design, and stick with it,” she says. “Using elements with a similar style will help create a cohesive look.” For example, if you’re going for a tropical theme, Orsini suggests mixing banana leaves with wicker placemats. “Don’t try to add expensive ornate china to the table,” she adds. “Keep design simple and streamlined.”
As in the case of this get-together, the chocolatini theme was first evident in the invites by Cam Turner Design, and then was carried over into the drink menu, the chocolate treats, decorations on the cake by Cakes by Stef, and the chocolate favors, which were not only shaped like martinis but also served in a martini glass.
What about color? “Try not to go overboard,” Orsini recommends. “Remember that an accent color should be just that—an accent!” Here, she used bits of chocolate brown—surprise, surprise!
Do you need a theme for every party that you throw? “I don’t think themes are always necessary,” Orsini says. “I do, however, always recommend a color scheme and design plan. It helps keep things looking organized and cohesive.”
And be sure to thank your guests for taking the time to come to your party. “Giving guests cute favors is always a good thing!” says Orsini.
Combine all ingredients with ice. Shake and fine strain into a martini glass. Rim martini glass with lemon, and dip in cocoa powder.
If you have a hard time choosing among milk, dark, and white chocolate, then a stroll into Donna Toscana Chocolate Lounge in Cranford (908-272-4380; donnatoscana.com) will surely leave you flustered. Here, selections include an aged balsamic chocolate, pistachio brittle and sea salt, blue cheese with tellicherry pepper rolled in milk chocolate and salted almonds, lemon and fresh basil chocolate, or Thai chocolate, which is a sumptuous combination of peanut butter, coconut, fresh ginger, and African piri-piri pepper. There’s even the Obama chocolate—smoked salt in caramel.
So why do these flavor combinations work so well? It’s more than just the melding of sweet and salty, and is most likely the result of a chocolate genius: “I have a sense of what may taste well together, and then I experiment until I get the flavor profile the way I want it,” says owner and chocolate guru Diane Pinder. “I learned a lot from my collaboration with [chef] Craig Shelton and learned not to fear what flavors can go together—and also to be a little obsessive about the quality of the flavor.”
She’s been so successful at crafting chocolate combinations that she’s now dabbling in ice cream, with fun selections such as avocado and lemon-lime sorbet or Guinness stout ice cream. And she’s about to launch her New Jersey collection of caramels called Cocoabee Chocolates (cocoabee.com), made with honey from a Garden State bee farm in New Jersey. Flavors are Jersey-centric, including cranberry and blueberry, and no artificial colors will be used.
And then there’s the chocolate of the month, with new varieties continually being introduced, which is extremely popular with customers. As if anyone really needs an additional reason to return to this sweet nirvana!