Growing up in South Africa, Desiree Engman had no doubt she would end up in the food business.
Her Grandmother was a cook, all of her seven great aunts were in the food business, and Engman’s mother, Myrna Rosen is a famous cookbook author.
“My mom is the Martha Stewart of South Africa,” said Engman, who recalled her childhood days when her mom taught cooking and baking classes in the family’s basement.
But Engman is a bit of a Martha Stewart herself. She is the owner of Desiree Chocolates, the Deerfield-based chocolate and dessert catering company she started 15 years ago.
Desiree Chocolates works with individuals and party planners, catering custom dessert tables, dessert stations, and a live chocolate dipping option for weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, fundraisers, corporate events, milestone birthday parties, and other events. Engman makes all her own product, and she sets up and stays at every party.
“People will come to the table and say, ‘This is so pretty, I can’t even eat this!’” said Engman, a Deerfield mom of two who makes all her desserts and chocolates at a commercial kitchen in Vernon Hills. “My goal for both presentation and taste is to create the wow factor.”
Engman, who is a graduate of the University of Miami, got her start in the chocolate business in Cincinnati, where she had a retail candy store she described as “Willy Wonka style.”
She sold her store after eight years and moved to Chicago, where she made chocolates for a candy store in Lincoln Park for three years. When the store decided to close, Engman knew it was the right time for a new business.
With every party customized, and a recipe list of more than 50 desserts that include cheesecakes, mousses, cookies, cupcakes, pastries, cake pops and cookie dough pops, Engman’s desserts are all bite size, and are on a stick, in a cone or in a cup.
“The fact that everything is mini is a huge plus, because people can try a bite of a lot of different desserts,” she said. “They can also eat something, go dance and come back and have more.”
Then there’s the chocolate, which is all hand-dipped using only Belgian chocolate, and fresh, high quality ingredients. Items available include chocolate-covered pretzels, marshmallows, Oreos, Rice Krispie treats, popcorn, fresh fruit and fruit kabobs.
Denise Pierce is the owner of her Vernon Hills-based Event Planning company, Simply Celebrate, and has been recommending Desiree Chocolates to her clients for seven years.
“With whatever theme we go to her with, she gets it and goes from there,” said Pierce, who specializes in Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. “My favorites are the white chocolate covered popcorn with Oreos in it, her toffee, her fruit kabobs, and her caramel shortbread squares.”
“She’s over the top,” said Norman Gutmann of Deerfield, who with his wife, Gracie hired Engman for their daughter’s Evanston wedding four months ago. “The stuff is killer good. It’s delicious and beautiful and artistic, just gorgeous.”
Engman said she’s creating new recipes all the time, and that she still calls her mom frequently for advice and help with recipes.
“You’re dancing away, and then all of a sudden we open the sweet table and it’s the next wow of the night,” said Pierce.
“People were astonished,” Gutmann said. “They were going gaga.”