Cupcake coma: Hilary Duff puts Ottawa’s cupcakes to the test at ECO EXPO

ECO EXPO's first ever local cupcake challenge took place this past weekend, with LTO's Hilary Duff as a celebrity judge

Hilary Duff (blog/Twitter) is a quirky 21-year-old who loves multimedia journalism, cycling, food blogging, and churning massive amounts of baked goods out of her cramped student kitchen.

Looking back on the reviews I’ve written as part of my search for Ottawa’s perfect cupcake, I realize that I’ve thrown around the term “cupcake coma” quite liberally.  This is the state, of course, when you are completely incapacitated by a sugary stomachache, to the point that you never want to see a dessert item again.  Dear readers, though the term has been used, I must admit that I didn’t truly know what a cupcake coma was until this past Sunday afternoon.

For more information on the ECO EXPO, visit

As some of you may remember, I was asked to be a celebrity guest judge in a cupcake competition organized for Ottawa’s ECO EXPO fair.  Since I’ve been in Toronto interning at the National Post all this month, I bussed in just for the event.  I blissfully walked over the RA Centre from my house, anticipating glorious afternoon of sugary intoxication. 

Walking into the fair, my eyes darted around, quickly becoming fixated on a huge table sitting to my left.  Plates and plates of cupcakes sat waiting to be judged, beckoning me with their frosted chapeaus and sprinkled smiles.  I took a quick picture and had to walk away.  I had starved myself all morning in anticipation for the competition and would it would not be long before I would get my reward.

In the meantime, I decided to walk around.  It was nice to arrive early, since it gave me the chance to get caught up with people in the Ottawa foodie community.

I finally got to meet the famous Michael Sunderland of michaelsdolce jam, after tweeting back and forth for a while. 

Fumie, Michael and Hilary

michaeldolce jam

I swear that you cannot declare yourself a true Ottawa food lover unless you have tried his product, be it with cheese, on a cracker, or sinfully scooped directly out of the jar. 

Seriously, it’s heaven. 

Both Michael and his wife Fumie were two of the sweetest people ever, and neither tossed me a single judgmental look, even after I tried six different samples of their jam.

Across the aisle from Michael was Alea, author of the food blog My Real Food Life.

Joanna of Dolci and Alea of My Real Food Life

 Alea and I had also been in contact over Twitter to arrange a cupcake tasting (which will be coming up sometime in the near future!).  Wearing a personalized t-shirt advertising her blog, Alea was an incredibly bubbly and happy addition to my afternoon.  Also, her gluten-free chickpea nacho chips were to die for.  After shamelessly picking away at her samples, I ended up buying myself a bag for the bus ride back to Toronto.

After an hour of mingling with other foodie friends, it was finally time for cupcakes.

My fellow judges for the afternoon were Judy Field, publisher of the local magazine Healthwise Ottawa and David Chernushenko, city councillor for the capital ward.  David brought along two helpers, which was probably smart considering how many cupcakes we had to judge. 

Cupcake judges Judy Field, Hilary Duff, David Chernushenko and helpers

Sitting down at the long table, my eyes grew wide as plates of cupcakes were placed in front of me.  There were a dozen different kinds in total.  I was starting to get a sugar headache just looking at them.  And then it began.


For the next 45 minutes, the small crowd gathered in front of our table watched as I sacrificed all my healthy inhibitions and stuffed my face. 

Wanting to eat as much cupcake as possible (because hey, how often do you get to judge a cupcake competition?), I started off eating half of each, before realizing that I was being a little too ambitious.  Even for a self-proclaimed cupcake lover, six cupcakes would have been a little too many. 

My stomach rumbled in displeasure, and my eyes started to get droopy.  It was like all the sugar particles I ingested were magnets, attracting every ounce of energy I had left in my body.

Now, it would be far too difficult and unfair to say what I thought of each individual cupcake (not to mention I can’t remember details since there were far too many), so I’ll just give an overall diagnoses: Ottawa, you’re awesome. 

Every single cupcake had a unique quality, be it some unusual flavour, fancy topping, or creative serving method.

More cupcakes!

My congratulations go out to the winners: Daphney at the Cupcake Fairy, Holly and Jackie at L’Oven, and Joanna at Dolci.  I know that I’ve tried all your cupcakes in passing, but it was absolutely lovely to try them again. 

Joanna informed me that there was a slight mix up with the cupcakes that we were served, and so for those of you whose cupcakes the judges mistakenly excluded, my profuse apologies. 

Trust me, I would have eaten more.

This was just the first year for the ECO EXPO cupcake competition – who knows how many entrants there will be next year.  If nothing else, this experience taught me two valuable lessons: bring a heaping glass of milk and pace yourself.

Cupcakes from the Cupcake Fairy, winner of best decorated

Thanks Hilary! And congratulations to Heather and Michael for pulling off what looks like a successful (and delicious) event!