Chocolatier Turned Oncology Research Coordinator Sweetens The Day For Patients At Caring House

February 15, 2018
By: Karen E. Butler, Director of Communications

Helen Lum, being treated at Duke for cervical cancer, prepares to bite into a homemade marshmallow (recipe below) dipped in a rich chocolate fondue.Most people indulge in some sort of hobby — dipping into this and dipping into that. However, for Diane Pinder, a clinical research coordinator, her love of chocolate is more than just an indulgence — it is another way she’s found to reach out and care for others.

Pinder, one-time chocolatier, and Brittany Griffin, a self-described "amateur" baker, are members of the Genitourinary Research Team. Pinder and Griffin, who is a data coordinator, teamed up on Valentine’s Day to bring their sweet treats to guests staying at Caring House, a lodging facility dedicated to Duke Cancer Institute outpatients.

“Scrumptious,” exclaimed caregiver Pamela Whitlow, CNA, as she sank her teeth into Griffin's homemade chocolate cake pop, which was smothered in a gooey chocolate fondue prepared by Pinder. “This cake is so moist – the fondue, so chocolaty – what a nice surprise.”

Pinder, who grew up in New Jersey, worked for many years as a nurse. After a divorce and the emotional upheaval of 9/11, Pinder made a series of life changing pivots – first, leaving behind her nursing career in New Jersey for a job in New York City working in marketing and education for a medical device manufacturer. She also remarried. But perhaps her greatest redirect was when, in 2004, she opened the Donna Toscana Chocolate Lounge in Cranford, New Jersey, where she debuted her Donna Toscana line of truffles and artisanal chocolate bars.

“My passion for chocolate began when as a child my father, who worked for Duncan Hines, came home every evening dusted from head to toe in ground cocoa,” remembered Pinder with a chuckle. “He always came home with a sweet smell of chocolate – an aroma I learned to love almost as much as my father.”

After Pinder left her job in marketing, she studied in New York City to become chocolatier. She went on to intern with Fritz Knipschildt, an award winning master chocolatier whose café, Chocopologie, is located in Norwalk, Connecticut. In 2006, Pinder set off for Florence, Italy, where she trained in the art and science of chocolate making under the tutelage of some of world’s most revered chocolate artisans.

“My amazing experience visiting Tuscany’s Chocolate Valley, where artisans looked for only the freshest ingredients, really inspired me to begin using locally sourced ingredients in my own chocolate making,” Pinder shared. “I was also inspired to begin making savory chocolate confections, like olive oil and sea salt chocolate bars and balsamic, honey and rosemary chocolate bite size morsels. They were an instant hit with my customers.”Brittany Griffin and Diane Pinder take a dose of their own sweet "medicine," a chocolate cake pop covered by chocolate fondue.

Years later Pinder, whose business was on the decline as a result of a bruised and battered economy and a clientele whose discretionary spending had long since melted away, closed shop. In 2016, she and her husband relocated to North Carolina where they are now closer to family and enjoy a more affordable lifestyle.

“I joined Duke in August of 2016, signing on with the GU team,” said Pinder, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in clinical research and product development. “Although I miss making chocolate and seeing the faces of my customers light up when coming into the shop, I’m pleased to be back working in medicine, knowing what I do now makes a difference for so many battling cancer.”

The desserts prepared by Pinder and Griffin were served as part of the Provide A Meal program sponsored by Caring House. Program organizers partner with groups and businesses in the community to provide dinners for guests, Monday through Friday. Individuals and groups are invited to bring dinner, prepare dinner or, as in this case, create desserts, for approximately 25 to 30 guests. For more information on the Provide A Meal Program or planning a stay, please visit Caring House or contact Kelly Mulhern at 919.490.5449.