Second annual Ottawa Food Truck Rally on Saturday attracts bumper crowd on more spacious parking lot outside St. Paul’s University
SEP 29 14 – 12:40 PM — Terek Hassan’s popular Gongfu Bao food cart, specializing in stuffed and steamy Asian buns, successfully defended his championship title against 16 street food truck and cart challengers at Saturday’s second annual Ottawa Food Truck Rally, which attracted an enthusiastic crowd of 2,000 ravenous revellers outside St. Paul’s University.
It is the second year Gongfu Bao, usually located at the northwest entrance to Confederation Park (Wednesday to Friday noon to 3 p.m.), took top billing with his street-friendly savoury bites. This year Hassan served barbecue pulled pork with hoison sauce, and crispy shallot with accent of coriander served with Asian slaw. Last year judges (myself among them) awarded Gongfu Bao the title of Best Small Plate at the first annual Ottawa Food Truck Rally, while Angry Dragonz in 2013 claimed Best Large Plate with its grilled chicken, beef and lamb kebabs with Asian slaw.
(Sadly, Angry Dragonz could not join the rally Saturday due to mechanical problems with the truck. This year, judges were asked to decide one Best Overall Plate instead of separate large and small plates, as all operators were asked to keep their prices at or below $4.)
— domicile (@readytodomicile) September 28, 2014
“I’m extremely happy Gongfu won the title for best food!,” Hassan says.
“First, I have to thank my crew for working so hard to make this happen. I was genuinely sad that Angry Dragonz couldn’t make it to defend their claim to the trophy — they would’ve been stiff competition and I’m excited to take them on next year.
“All the carts and trucks brought their A-game and there were several with a shot at the title. I’m really glad all our hard work paid off for a second year in a row,” Hassan says.
— RonEade (@roneade) September 27, 2014
Placing first with Best Truck Design was The Merry Dairy by owner Marlene Haley (title last year went to Urban Cowboy) with her seductive frozen treats and classic, playful vehicle motif. (Judges also gave honourable mention to a colourful, stand-out-from-the-crowd Mr. Churritos cart with its bright undulating banners.)
Photos of all plates appear in this blog post.
I should add, very honourable food mentions went to Ad Mare by Barrhaven couple Miriam and Mario Bruce, and chef Pete Webster, for a perfectly executed “fish and chips” meal featuring lightly breaded and fried haddock and home-made crispy chips (an interesting combination of sweet potato, beet, regular potato); also Ottawa Streat Gourmet by chef Ben Baird and partner Elyse Pion for what has to be the most flavourful if not rich poutine I’ve sampled — that’s fresh home-made fries slathered with shredded duck confit, oh-so-rich caramelized onion gravy, and St. Albert cheese curd (of course).
About $20,000 was raised this year to assist culinary training for Ottawa Community Housing tenants at Algonquin College. “This will fund up to three scholarships for the tenants,” says Wendy Mitchell, executive director of the OCH Foundation.
“It’s to explore alternative educational opportunities for OCH tenants,” Mitchell says. “Often our tenants have been out of school or the workplace for an extended period, and more academically focused programs may not be of interest to them.
“The culinary arts program combines learning, practical and creative crossover that could really inspire a recipient from OCH to succeed,” Mitchell says.
— Social Media Matters (@SoMediaMatters) September 27, 2014
Judging this year were Harley Finkelstein of Shopify and his wife, Lindsay Taub; chef Kyrn Stein of Social; Jim Kyle, dean of the school of hospitality and tourism at Algonquin College; Carley Schelck of the Urban Element, and myself.
Truck and cart operators say they enjoy the annual street food rally not only because of the enthusiastic crowd it attracts, but because it affords Ottawans a taste of so many culinary cultures. “The gourmet food truck culture is really just beginning in Ottawa,” says Jake Thomas of Dosa Inc., which specializes in a type of filled South Indian crêpes.
“It’s so much fun to be a part of it all.”
Adds Marlene Haley at The Merry Dairy: “It was a lot of fun last year — such a great atmosphere being all together in one place.”
Layne Belcher at The Urban Cowboy, well known for his Belcher Burgers named after his late father, Val Belcher (formerly of the Ottawa Rough Riders), expected to serve 1,000 mini corn jalapeño pancakes with cinnamon, braised pulled pork, apple compote and maple bourbon jus.
“To get all these people together and see all these different types of food is amazing,” Belcher says.
“It’s a celebration of food trucks,” he adds. “You’ve got some pretty cool stuff here.”