Red Hook & the Chocolate Festival

(Photo by Jesslee Cuizon)

Roald Dahl published Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 1964, making this year the 50th anniversary of the story that made Willy Wonka and the Oompa-Loompas household names. And just like virtuous Charlie in the book, children (and adults) in Red Hook will have the opportunity to find a Golden Ticket inside the wrapping of their chocolate bar at the first-ever “Red Hook & the Chocolate Festival,” held at locations throughout the village of Red Hook on Saturday, November 1 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The three Golden Tickets found inside bars of chocolate sold by Girl Scouts stationed on the streets that day will be redeemable for cash prizes, according to Kimberley McGrath-Gomez, executive director of the Red Hook Area Chamber of Commerce organizing the event.

Pre-festival, there’s a 5K run at 9 a.m. and a one-mile Fun Run at 9:45 a.m. sponsored by the local girls’ soccer team, the Red Dragons, who are raising funds to go to Sweden for the big Gothia Cup tournament next summer. The races begin at the municipal parking lot at Broad and Prince Streets. Details on cost and registration forms are on the Chamber’s website.

Red Hook & the Chocolate Festival kicks off at 11 a.m. at Taste Budd’s Chocolate and Coffee Café at 40 West Market Street, where proprietor Dan Budd will offer chocolate-tastings and educate participants on the finer points of savoring the delectable stuff before sending people off with a ratings card to try chocolates at other businesses. A red balloon will mark the site of chocolate-tasting locations where one’s newly found appreciation of the finer points of chocolate-consumption can be tried out.

Chocolate-inspired goodies to be found will include chocolate (mole) chili, chocolate-covered strawberry martinis, chocolate lava cake, chocolate wings, chocolate-and-rosemary short ribs, chocolate fountains, chocolate pizza and chocolate soda, sorbet and ice cream. (For those who’d rather just apply the chocolate directly to their hips, there’s even chocolate bath scrub and lotion.)

Live music will be performed in “nearly every square inch of the village,” said McGrath-Gomez, featuring a wide variety of singers and musicians, including Fierce Mantras (jazz, funk, punk); the MacCana Band (jigs, reels and forgotten Celtic tunes); Shandy (an acoustic duo playing folk and rock covers and originals); and Frank Migliorelli (folk, rock, soul).

A Cooking with Chocolate demonstration will be held at the Flatiron Steakhouse at 7488 South Broadway/Route 9 at 12 noon, and the Chocolate Bomb Skateboard Race starts at 1 p.m. Boarders have to preregister with the Board Room skateboard shopowner Christopher Hoffman at 14 East Market Street. The route will go through the village, with prizes for first, second and third place awarded.

From 1:30 to 3 p.m., the Historic Red Hook organization will be at the Elmendorf Inn to talk about the “Chocolate Wars” history of Red Hook (more on that in a moment) and from 3 to 5 p.m. will be the festival’s finale: the Chocolate Wars dessert-making competition at the Red Hook Middle School on Linden Avenue. Teens ages 13 to 16 can sign up and receive a free chocolate bar; those who find a golden ticket inside the wrapper will be chosen as participants for the competition, which will find teams of two teens and an adult mentor working together from a basket of mystery ingredients to create chocolate desserts. They’ll have 45 minutes to create three identical plated desserts for the three judges to sample. Prizes will be awarded to first and second place. To sign up in advance, visit the link on the Chamber website.

So now, about those Chocolate Wars… It bears mentioning that, despite the Golden Tickets in the chocolate bars and a costumed Willy Wonka who will roam the streets on festival day, the event was not really inspired by Dahl’s classic story of children who got their just desserts. McGrath-Gomez explained that the idea for the event came about because of Red Hook’s history as home to a thriving chocolate business established in 1888 by William H. Baker, whose company produced 20,000 pounds of chocolate a day in Red Hook at its peak. However, Red Hook’s William H. Baker – no relation to Walter H. Baker, founder of the original Baker Chocolate Company in 1780 – apparently had no scruples about openly capitalizing on the better-known brand’s reputation, utilizing almost-identical package designs. This, of course, led to litigation and what became known in local folklore as “the Chocolate Wars.” (And according to an old edition of the About Town publication, the lawsuits also involved – incredibly – another chocolate-maker named William H. Baker, of Syracuse, who sold “Baker’s Chocolate,” and a William Phillips Baker from an unspecified New York location, who also got in on the Baker Chocolate name and reputation.)

The Red Hook Chocolate Factory at 54 Elizabeth Street was eventually sold by William H. Baker’s heirs to the Walker Candy Company, which closed in 1932. The building became a cold-storage warehouse for locally grown apples, peaches, pears and grapes before being converted to a frozen-food warehouse, and was finally abandoned in the early 1980s before it was resurrected as upscale industrial office and retail space in 1995.

Red Hook & the Chocolate Festival, Saturday, November 1, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., free, locations throughout village of Red Hook; (845) 758-0824,


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