The Art of Chocolate Festival


Former Featherstone director Francine Kelly and her successor, daughter Ann Smith, both agree that the annual Art of Chocolate festival is the most popular event hosted by the Island’s center for the arts each year. Says Ms. Kelly, who launched the festival seven years ago in her second year as director, “During the season everybody asks if we’re going to do it again this year. And we do.” Adds Ms. Smith, “There are people who come from Boston and Providence. It’s a tradition that people talk about all year-round.”

The annual Columbus Day weekend event celebrates the cocoa bean in all its myriad forms. On Saturday and Sunday, guests have the opportunity to stroll the main gallery where their senses will be sweetly assaulted by an array of tempting chocolate treats, including a chocolate fountain that beckons to dippers, a giant chocolate cake provided by Cakes by Liz, a sundae station featuring a secret recipe, and chocolate fondant, brownies, macaroons, cookies, chocolate mousse by Slice of Life owner Pete Smith, and chocolates by the score.

The inclusion of chocolate creations from restaurants is new this year. Along with Slice of Life, Farm Neck Café and the Oyster Bar Grill will contribute chocolate desserts. A number of Featherstone artists and teachers are also recruited annually to provide their favorite recipes. “I think our artists enjoy the opportunity to work in a different medium,” Ms. Smith says.

Ceramicist Washington Ledesma, whose “drunken” cake is always a hit, promises that he has finally perfected the recipe that he originally got from a French chef. He confesses that he’s been guilty of making an overly intoxicating cake in the past but says that he now has the dark rum quotient down.

As always there will also be a chocolate tempering and dipping demonstration by Brenda Mastramonico of the Hilliard family, a display of artifacts from the early days of chocolate making, a collection of books and cookbooks, chocolate-themed movies on the outside porch, and a series of photos from cocoa plantations. On Saturday and Sunday, guests can choose to sample two treats for $5 or five for $10.

The festival kicks off with a preview party on Friday evening. For $50, guests are spared the agony of choosing amongst so many chocolate temptations. All the chocolate delights are included in the price, as are wine, champagne, and chocolate martinis.

The festival sprang from a desire of Ms. Kelly’s to host a fall awareness-raiser — something to attract folks who had never visited the extensive arts campus or taken advantage of the many classes that they offer. Featherstone benefactors Jeanne and Malcolm Campbell provided the inspiration. Ms. Campbell’s father owned the former Van Leer Chocolate Company in Jersey City for years. Mr. Campbell spent his career working for the company. Their daughter Jan started Chilmark Chocolates in 1984. One could say that chocolate is in their blood, and the couple were happy to help their friend Ms. Kelly with the planning.

Ms. Campbell recruited pastry chefs and chocolatiers for the first festival and contributed her collection of obsolete metal chocolate molds and other mementos from her father’s company. The Campbells, who are both very knowledgeable and eager to talk about the business of chocolate, also provide photos that Ms. Campbell, a photographer, took during the couple’s trips to cocoa plantations in Mexico and Africa.

“I try to make it an art experience,” Ms. Kelly says of the addition of films, books and photos. “We’ve always called it the Art of Chocolate.”

Last year ArtFarm Enterprises was recruited to provide entertainment for the preview party. They created and produced a play entitled “Love by Chocolate,” which was a real crowd pleaser.

“We knew we couldn’t top that if we tried,” Ms. Smith says. So this year, John Alaimo will play background music on his keyboard, which is perfect. After all, it’s all about the chocolate.

Art of Chocolate Preview Party, Friday, Oct. 8, 7–9 pm, Featherstone, Oak Bluffs. 7th annual event. $50. RSVP: 508-693-1850;

Art of Chocolate Festival, Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 9 and 10, 12 noon–4 pm. $5 for 2 chocolates; $10 for 5. 508-693-1850;

Gwyn McAllister, who lives in Oak Bluffs, is a frequent contributor to The Times.