Festival

Malcolm Campbell fills one of the chocolate fountains at Featherstone Center for the Arts. Photos by Susan Safford
Malcolm Campbell fills one of the chocolate fountains at Featherstone Center for the Arts. Photos by Susan Safford

"There's something about chocolate"

By Tamar Russell - October 12, 2006

From low, swampy areas, 20 degrees north or south of the Equator, in temperatures of at least 90 degrees, comes an incredible plant. Before the Mayans, in the modern state of Tabasco in Mexico, for example, the cacao plant was grown and harvested by the Olmec people and an amazing dark drink, though not sweet, was produced. Today in Mexico this drink is produced in much the same fashion as it was in times past. When the cacao plant hits our soil and sugar is added, it is processed into what we call chocolate.

Chocolate is a food of much discussion. Whatever its properties produce in the human organism, one thing is for sure - most of humankind is weak to its advances. For the third year running, Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs has struck "chocolate" for art's sake.

Suzan Bellincampi and Wiet Bacheller enrobe bits of cake and fruit in chocolate at the annual Chocolate Festival.
Suzan Bellincampi (left) and Wiet Bacheller enrobe bits of cake and fruit in chocolate at the annual Chocolate Festival.

"Chocolate is always a success. It brings people out and once you get started and folks get hooked, people continue to come, because there is something about chocolate," according to Judy McConnell, chairman of Featherstone's board of directors.

Friday night's opening of The Art of Chocolate attracted many supporters of both the arts and chocolate. Chilmark Chocolates was the first table upon entry to the event. Then Dove Chocolate, the highlight of the night. Next came Cakes by Liz and Jan Buhrman from the Kitchen Porch. Displays on the walls offered details about each individual baker or business.

One such entry highlighted a young Islander by the name of Laura Beckman, a baker for The Black Dog. She studied at Johnson and Wales, interned at the Boston Grill #23, and then came home to the Island to work. Her special work of art was The Black Dog's most popular confection, the Chocolate Majesty Cake.

A chocolate wheel makes a design in the white chocolate.
A chocolate wheel makes a design in the white chocolate.

Many of these businesses as well as friends of Featherstone donated wonderful goodies for the three days of the festival, Saturday to Monday. For example Chocolate Cheers of Kingston, N.Y. donated Almond Butter Crunch. These other days also saw a silent auction table set-up as well as a white chocolate fountain in addition to the dark chocolate fountain present at Friday's opening party. Patrons came out to this event for various reasons. While I was standing at the fondue table, one visitor, Rob Goldfarb from the FARM Institute said, "I am an art lover-farmer, but more than anything a chocolate lover. However what better way to come out and say thank you to the community than to support events such as these." He went on to add that places like Featherstone are vital to the community.

Laura Beckman spears a delicious-looking morsel at last weekend's festival for all things chocolate.
Laura Beckman spears a delicious-looking morsel at last weekend's festival for all things chocolate.

This event is the brainchild of Jeanne and Malcom Campbell and Janis Smith-Gomez, daughter of executive director Francine Kelly. Ms. Kelly said that basically she just "brought two chocolate people together."

Ms. Campbell comes from a chocolate family by the name of Van Leer. The Van Leers were a Dutch family that began making chocolate as early as 1825. In 1998, Van Leer chocolate became part of the Callebaut Group based in Zurich. This past May, Ms. Campbell's familial interest in chocolate took her to Tabasco in Mexico, the source of many of the photos on the walls at Featherstone that illustrated caco production there. Ms. Smith-Gomez was the vice president of marketing for the chocolate brands of M&M Mars. The brands include M&M's, Snickers, 3 Musketeers, Dove, Milkyway, and Twix. It is obvious, then, that the melding of these two produced tables covered in chocolate to everyone's heart's content.

As I was surrounded by all this chocolate, holding the best chocolate martini I have ever tasted, it struck me that the purpose of this event really at the end of the day, had nothing to do with chocolate itself.

"We wanted to bring people in, who might not otherwise come in and know what is here at Featherstone," Ms. Campbell confessed.