Pre holiday splurge – Chocolate Festival at Featherstone

A large crowd enjoyed the Preview Party during 2012 Art of Chocolate Festival at Featherstone. This year's party is this Friday, October 11.
File photo by Lynn Christoffers

A large crowd enjoyed the Preview Party during 2012 Art of Chocolate Festival at Featherstone. This year's party is this Friday, October 11.

In many places in the U.S., Columbus Day weekend is associated with sales and the first vacation of the school year. Some people may even recall the holiday’s honoree, the man credited with discovering the Americas. But on the Vineyard, Columbus Day to many means one thing — the Art of Chocolate Festival at Featherstone Center for the Arts.

The three-day celebration of everything chocolate has drawn people to Featherstone with the sweet smell of the cocoa bean for a full decade. And while the biggest draw is the dizzying array of chocolate goodies on offer, this year the organizers are offering a few additional enticements.

The preview party on Friday night, for which patrons pay $50 for the opportunity to graze at will, will this year feature a sampling of stories told by Susan Klein. The acclaimed raconteuse will entertain guests under an outdoor tent with a collection of stories she has titled for the occasion, “The Sweet Side of Savory.” During the brief entertainment portion of the evening, teaser treats from Chilmark Chocolates and others will be passed around.

For the main course, guests will step inside the Virginia Weston Besse Gallery to be confronted by a chocoholic’s dream come true. As they have done in the past, festival organizers will transform the space into a Willy Wonka fantasy world complete with a chocolate fountain, an ice cream and frozen yogurt sundae bar, a tempering station, oodles and oodles of delectable treats and, to top it all off, champagne and chocolate martinis concocted from a special recipe provided by a former Oyster Bar bartender.

Featherstone invited artists to contribute chocolate-themed art this year to decorate the walls. A few have responded with a promise to create festival-appropriate works in a variety of media. Many of the Featherstone artists have regularly contributed chocolate goodies to the festivities as well. Returning this year will be some of the crowd favorites including Marston Clough’s truffles, peanut butter chestnuts by Nancy Blank, chocolate cheesecake by board member and artist Judy McConnell, and ceramicist Washington Ledesma’s infamous drunken cake.

Since this is the 10th anniversary, Featherstone will honor those who have supported the festival since its inception including co-founders Jeanne and Malcolm Campbell and Janis Smith-Gomez; Brenda Mastromonaco of the famed Hilliards family of chocolatiers; Chilmark Chocolates; Cakes by Liz, who always donates a huge centerpiece cake as well as other treats; and Dorothy Cox, whose chocolate-covered cranberries from her business Dorothy Cox Chocolates of Fairhaven have invariably proved one of the most popular delicacies.

Also among the honorees will be Mars Chocolate North America, which will once again provide a variety of M&M and Dove chocolates including two new tastes, Dove Mint Swirl and Dove Cookies and Cream Promises.

“We wanted to focus on honoring the people who have been with us from the beginning,” said former Featherstone director and Art of Chocolate co-founder Francine Kelly. “These are the people who have donated their time, talents, and money to make the festival possible.”

Along with all the usual chocolate suspects — fudgy brownies, multi-layered cakes, and chocolate-dipped confections of every description, some of the standouts year after year have been the chocolate pinwheels from Orange Peel Bakery, chocolate mousse from Pete Smyth of Slice of Life, and assorted towering cheesecakes from The Cheesecake Factory. The chocolate fountain will be stocked with fruit, marshmallows, pretzels, and more, and Ms. Mastromonaco will demonstrate a tempering technique using a device invented by her grandfather.

The Campbells, who operated a family-run chocolate business in Jersey City for many years, will display old metal candy molds, photos, and other artifacts illustrating the history of the chocolate business.

Luckily, patrons at the Friday night reception don’t have to decide from among the dozens of goodies on offer. For those with less willpower, on Saturday and Sunday the public is invited to stop by and choose from among all the treats. Patrons can purchase tickets for two tastes for $5; or five for $10.

The Art of Chocolate Festival Preview Party feat. “The Sweet Side of Savory” with Susan Klein, Friday, Oct. 11, 6–8 pm. $50.

Chocolate Festival continues 12 noon–4 pm Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 12 and 13. $5 for 2 tastes; $10 for 5 tastes. All events held at Featherstone in Oak Bluffs. For more information, call 508-693-1850 or visit featherstoneart.org.