The second-annual Ottawa Foodie Challenge: A day of bicycle-powered fun

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. She is also a contributing editor for Local Tourist Ottawa.

Take a typical day in the life of Hilary and multiply it by a trillion. Welcome to my Sunday.

My days are normally composed of food, biking and roommate love, and this past weekend all three were exaggerated exponentially. To my great pleasure, I might add.

Sunday was the date of the second-annual Ottawa Foodie Challenge.

Perplexed? For those that don’t know, OFC is an event held to help combat community hunger and raise money for the Ottawa Food Bank. The day operates like a scavenger hunt: participants are given a list of tasks at the beginning of the day that they need to complete and photograph over the next several hours. This year’s challenge saw 30 teams competing for the grand prize: a load of wine, gift certificates for local restaurants and food shops, and bragging rights for the next year.

As soon as I heard about the hunt, I knew it was right up my alley. I asked my roommate Brittany if she wanted to be my partner and, just like that, Team YUKON DO IT! was born. I was more that a little pleased to become a honourary Yukoner for the day.

Brittany and I with our Yukon ski team jackets (well, with her Yukon ski team jackets..)

Being students, Britt and I faced a tricky dilemma: we don’t have a car. This concerned us. We knew the hunt would send us across the city, and that time and speedy transportation would be of the essence. A combination of determination and a desire to be active (mixed with our no-other-option circumstances) led to our decision to do the OFC on our bikes.

And so, on Sunday morning, Britt and I rolled up to the Urban Element in Wellington West for the morning kick-off. After the grand prize was announced and several delicious Life of Pie freebie scones were consumed, we received THE LIST. Our route was promptly plotted, and we left in a flurry, leaving behind a screeching of tires and a blur of saddlebags.

Task 17: You at any bagel shop with a bagel on your fingers

For the next six hours, Britt and I made our way across the city, fueled only by our competitive will to win and a bag of a dozen day-old bagels that we had bought to complete an earlier challenge. I swear, doughy carbohydrates have never tasted so good.

As far as neighbourhood hopping went, we planned the day to minimize backtracking, a goal that I think we accomplished fairly well. Being on bikes, we managed to illegally enter parking lots, dodge/carefully peddle through construction, park on sidewalks and nearly run over a few people in the Market.

This year’s tasks were fun and creative, some more challenging than others. Here are the stories that accompany a few of our favourites…

1. Task #20: You and a Kraft single beside the most expensive piece of cheese you can find

Who knew that journalism student persistence would pay off in the form of processed cheese? For this challenge, Britt and I were left stranded outside of La Bottega in the Market, at a loss for where to find a piece of cheese to juxtapose the $74.99/kg chunk we eventually found. The answer was McDonalds. Surely the golden arches didn’t use real cheese on their Big Macs, I thought. After rushing to the cash at the downtown location and pestering a couple of employees, I eventually managed to convince one of them to wrap up a piece of their processed cheese for me. Disobeying social norms and asking strange requests while pouting really pays off. 

2. Task #23: You holding a live “Sebastien” from the Little Mermaid

Come on, you can’t honestly tell me that you wouldn’t love to hang out with a lobster. Maybe it’s because I’m a Pisces and one with the water, or something, but holding a wriggling sea creature was one of the highlights of my day. 

3. Task #36: You shaving chicken off any shawarma skewer

Britt and I biked past shawarma shops all day long, telling ourselves as we whizzed past each that we were reserving this task completion for Cedar Springs, the tiny grocery shop and shawarma deli in our neighbourhood, Old Ottawa South. It was the end of the day when Britt and I finally burst into the shop and begged the men behind the counter to let us wield sharp knives and pose with their chicken spits. After some persuasive talk and a promise to plug their groceria to everyone we know (plug, plug, plug) they let us take our picture. Bonus: they even lent us a chef’s coat and hat so we could check that task off our list. Britt still has the hat and can be seen wearing it around the house on occasion. 

4. Task #9: Crawl down Preston with a plate on your head! (Make sure we can see the Little Italy street sign!)

In which we convinced the fine folk at Pub Italia to lend us a plate as we biked one-handed down Preston Street holding said dish. Bikes tossed aside, we paid tribute to the next Dishcrawl Ottawa neighbourhood.

 5.  Task #32: You rolling a sushi roll anywhere but at home

This was actually the most difficult challenge to accomplish. We were close to giving up on this one after several sushi restaurant visits filled with rejection and sadness (they all claimed something ridiculous about health regulations…). Finally, one sushi joint on the corner of Murray Street and Dalhousie let me behind the counter. I think they could see the desperation in my eyes.

To see all our pictures from the other challenges, check out the Flickr set Britt and I submitted to be judged. Please ignore my helmet hair and general dishevelment.

That night at the closing ceremonies, people didn’t even recognize us. We promptly reminded them that we were the girls on bikes wearing spandex and Yukon ski team windbreakers. This helped.

When the lead organizer Carolynn got up to announce the winners, Britt and I held our breath. We had completed all the tasks except one, but were unsure how well our score would stand up to the 29 other teams.

And then we won.

It was a FANTASTIC moment, and we ecstatically jumped out of our seats to accept our prize, golden crowns and dog-toy-on-a-plate sandwich trophy, the latter of which now sits on our fireplace mantle.

The place of pride

It was the perfect end to an already great day. Thanks again to Carolynn, Larissa Beznaczuk-SmyrnewKyle Braatz and Matt Richling for doing such a great job planning things.

Now, would someone like to massage my calves? I’m feeling a little sore…

To check out the other albums from the Ottawa Foodie Challenge, visit their blog where they’ll eventually be posting the links to all the Flickr photo sets. Did any of you participate in the OFC? Tell us about your day!