French fries, gravy and cheese curds: three things that make health experts cringe, but which many Canadians can’t resist when the ingredients are combined to create poutine.
“It’s everybody’s guilty little pleasure but nobody’s thought to celebrate it,” says Kevin McHale, events co-ordinator for the Sparks Street Mall.
In a city that has festivals celebrating everything from tulips to dragon boats, Sparks Street businesses will be hosting Ottawa’s first ever Poutine Festival from Nov. 15-17.
“I’ve always been amazed when we come along with something like this and people jump on it so quickly. It tells me that they’re just as hungry – pun intended – as we are for putting these things together,” says Les Gagne, the mall authority’s executive director.
The group hopes to get about 25 poutine vendors set up over three blocks between Elgin and Bank streets. In addition to local merchants, the festival will offer live entertainment and a “Great Canadian Fork Off” poutine-eating contest. Out of five contestants, one human garbage disposal will be awarded a big, fork-shaped trophy.
“Our plan is to basically take the same approach as we’ve done in the past with Ribfest,” Gagne says.
“We want to extend it right down the length of Sparks Street over to Lyon. In our first year we’ll stick to the three blocks, featuring some of the best poutine in the capital, and obviously Gatineau.”
Normal invitations have been sent out to 20 of Ottawa’s top poutine merchants. An open invite has also been issued to the social network community, prompting citizens to nominate their favourites.
“With the demand and the love affair with poutine and cheese curd and all of that good stuff, we just felt that it might make a lot of sense to put together a festival to showcase this stuff, this great Canadian dish,” Gagne said.
The Elgin Street Diner is famous for its take on Canada’s dish and even boasts a badge on its menu claiming “Ottawa’s best poutine.”
Taking into account the countless poutine vendors and chip trucks dispersed in the ByWard Market area, it is no wonder that the dish has taken such a strong foothold in the city’s nightlife.
“It is a great way for people, especially students, to indulge in a snack that is simple and inexpensive,” says Brigette Laird, a second-year student at the University of Ottawa and poutine connoisseur.
“After living as a broke college student in Toronto, poutines became a meal I enjoyed trying all across the city,” says Laird. “Ottawa has provided the same opportunity to venture out with friends to new places to try what they have to offer.”
The Sparks Street Poutine Festival will be an open venue for poutine vendors across the city to showcase their dishes and compare with other sellers based on immediate citizen feedback.
“I think this is what [Poutine Fest] is all about, building a real neat community wide event hat we can all participate in and be apart of,” says Gagne.