Chocoholics unite on Martha’s Vineyard for annual festival

Some of the stunning array of chocolates at last year's annual Art of Chocolate Festival. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

You don’t have to be an art lover to appreciate the latest show at Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs. The chocolate will be flowing, literally, once again this weekend when the ninth annual Art of Chocolate Festival opens with a preview party on Friday, October 5.

Everything chocolate — from chocolate chip cookies and pastries, to dense chocolate cakes and silky chocolate mousse, to just pure chocolate in the form of handmade confections, and a chocolate fountain, will fill the Virginia Weston Besse Gallery with the rich aroma of the cocoa bean all weekend.

On Saturday and Sunday, October 6 and 7, guests can enjoy a pay-as-you-taste experience, while Friday party goers can try it all for $50. The preview party this year, hosted by festival founders Jeanne and Malcolm Campbell, is titled Sweet Sixteen, in honor of Featherstone’s 16 years in existence. For more than half of its history, the arts campus has been hosting the popular fundraiser, which always takes place on Columbus Day weekend.

Among the treats on hand for sampling will be cakes from Farm Neck Café and the Black Dog; chocolates from New Moon Magick, Ben and Bills, Dorothy Cox, and Chilmark Chocolates; mousse from the Slice of Life; chocolate bread pudding from The Newes from America; and buttery pastry snails with chocolate from Orange Peel Bakery. The ice cream sundae bar is always a big hit, as is the giant multi-layered cake and “cruffles” by Cakes by Liz. The chocolate fountain stocked with fruit and other goodies is sure to be a gathering place for chocoholics once again.

There will also be a few guilt-free options including gluten free macaroons from the Scottish Bakehouse and healthy chocolate delights from new business Not Your Sugar Mamas, located in the Tisbury Marketplace. The store, which sells locally produced organic chocolate products free from refined sugar, dairy, and gluten will offer samples of its three types of chocolate bars and, possibly, introduce its latest item — a bar called Be Local made with Island honey.

Also new this year, Tisberry of Vineyard Haven will set up a chocolate yogurt and fixings bar featuring all kinds of chocolate goodies. Another new sponsor, Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Company, is providing financial assistance and a chocolate surprise.

A highlight of the annual festival is a chocolate tempering demonstration by Brenda Mastromonaco of the famed chocolatier Hilliard family which operated a retail shop on the Island for many years. According to Ms. Mastromonaco, Hilliard’s Kitch-in-Vue Candies was opened in Oak Bluffs in 1945 right after WWII by her grandfather, Pearley Hilliard. Ms. Mastromonaco will create chocolates using a special kettle for tempering (a method of heating and cooling chocolate in order to use it for coating or dipping) invented by her grandfather. A company called Hilliard’s Chocolate Systems still manufactures these unique chocolate kettles, which are heated by lightbulbs, and ships them all over the world.

Featherstone special events director Francine Kelly will operate a smaller countertop tempering kettle for the first time.

Ms. Kelly, the former Featherstone executive director, launched the Art of Chocolate festival in 2003, along with the Campbells and Ms. Kelly’s daughter Janis Smith Gomez. Ms. Campbell’s father owned the former Van Leer Chocolate Company of Jersey City for many years. Mr. Campbell spent his career working for the company, along with a number of family members. Daughter Jan, who was among the company’s employees, founded Chilmark Chocolates in 1984. The popular up-Island chocolate shop, which will be closed until the holidays, will donate boxes of goodies to Featherstone to sell during the festival. “This is the only place to buy Chilmark Chocolates right now,” says Ms. Kelly.

The Campbells are always enthusiastic participants in the festival. They will display old metal candy molds from their family business and other artifacts of the chocolate trade, as well as photos from their visits to cocoa plantations in Mexico and Africa.

Ms. Gomez formerly worked for Master Foods, makers of candies under the Mars and Dove brands. Master Foods has always donated M&Ms and Dove chocolates to the festival. This year, Dove Chocolate Discoveries is a festival underwriter and will introduce two new tastes at the festival: Tequila Lime Brittle and Cocoa Caramel Crunch.

A number of Featherstone affiliated artists turn their creative talents to preparing chocolate goodies. Among the artist-made treats will be truffles by Marston Clough, peanut butter “chestnuts” by Nancy Blank, and Washington Ledesma’s infamous rum-soaked “drunken cake.”

Mr. Clough, president of the Featherstone board of directors, warns that there is nothing healthy about his chocolate truffles, but, he says, “It’s a fun event and it’s a delicious event.”

If you’re a chocolate lover, hold off on any dieting plans until after this weekend.

The Art of Chocolate Festival Preview Party, 7–9 pm, Friday, Oct. 5, Featherstone, Oak Bluffs. $50. Festival continues 12 noon–4 pm Oct. 6 and 7. 2 tastes for $5; 5 for $10. For more information, call 508-693-1850;