The event had been months in the making. Our team, the Fifth Avenue Wine
Club Society had been training hard for weeks; keeping to a very strict regimen. And then, the day finally arrived -- the Duckathlon 2005. A culinary scavenger hunt of sorts in honor of D'Artagnan's 20th "Birdday," food and wine lovers from all over the world congregated in New York to compete and help celebrate the occasion. It was tough, but someone had to do it.
Each team was given a list of stops scattered about the Meatpacking District which we had to make in order. At each destination, we were given a challenge, generally involving food or wine, but sometimes reflecting the services offered at the given spot. Teams came from all over the world, and several had donned duck or food-related costumes for the event. Our personal favorite was the team from No. 9 Park, a Boston restaurant, who trimmed their chef's coats with white duck feathers.
Gothamist started our journey at Paradou, a small neighborhood bistro, who had partnered with Chateau Lascombes and Chateau Vieux Robin. Our task was twofold: first, we had to guess the vintage of a glass of wine. Although it was a multiple choice question, even our two oenophiles guessed incorrectly. Next, we were timed on how quickly we could open a bottle of wine. One of our teammates had the distinct advantage of having worked at a wine bar for a chunk of time -- he opened that baby in 15 seconds flat without even batting an eyelash.
We walked a few blocks to Hogs and Heifers, our next stop. We completed our task -- finding three bras in two minutes anywhere but behind the bar -- so fast (less than 10 seconds) that we had plenty of time for a shot of Jager before we moved on. Unfortunately, the folks at Fusion Gym had a physical challenge for us: pushups. Not the best follow-up to a Jager shot, but luckily we were able to pass that particular task along to some of our other teammates.
Our next stop was Debragga & Spitler, suppliers of meat to restaurants nationwide. Our task was to identify various cuts of meat and we whipped through the squab, sweetbreads, pancetta, and porterhouse with no problem, but guessed one cut incorrectly -- we mistakenly identified a flatiron steak as a tenderloin. Sigh. Onward to the Old Homestead for our next challenge, which turned out to be more booze. Hooray! We were faced with four glasses of liquor, and had to determine which two were Armagnac, which was rum, and which was the "mystery liquor," and for extra points, we had to identify it. After much deliberation, we ended up with a perfect score on this one, even solving the mystery: grappa.
Our next stop brought us back to the physical side of things, as we had to don flippers for a "duck race." After watching Ariane Daugin, co-owner of D'Artagnan (pictured at left), complete the slalom course, our clever teammates decided that things might go more smoothly for us if we went backwards rather than forwards. This might have been true for most of us, but some of us have such little feet that we kept sliding right out of our flippers, which slowed us down dramatically (sorry, guys!).
Thankfully, we were able to drown our sorrows from our less-than-stellar duck race performance at the Chelsea Wine Vault, where we were charged with correctly identifying four wine varietals from Chateau Lynch Bages. Despite our highly distinguished palates, we confused our cabernet sauvingnon with our cabernet franc. Gothamist got a bit of a tongue-lashing from our wine expert about this later!
The next section of tasks all centered around the Chelsea Market, where we realized we don't spend nearly enough time. We had to guess the weight of a suckling pig at Frank's Butcher Shop, make four eclairs in four minutes at Groupil (we loved this one, not only because it was fun, but because we ate the eclairs afterwards), identify different varieties of mushroom at Buon Italia, slice ultra-thin slices of saucisson with beautiful Laguiole knifes at Portico, and spell out a sentence with letters from alphabet soup at The Cleaver Company.
At Amy's Bread, we were given a ball of dough. We were allowed to make anything we wanted with it, and after a brief creative brainstorming session, our team decided to make a bunch of grapes (in honor of our team name, the Fifth Avenue Wine
Club Society), and even stained the dough with some red wine before we baked it (we, uh, happened to be carrying some around with us). The bread baked while we finished up the remaining tasks, including building a likeness of the Eiffel Tower out of La Part Des Anges candies, and buying as many items as possible for a grand total of $5 at Western Beef.
Finally, the party, where we drank champagne, ate D'Artagnan foie gras and truffle butter (thanks again to George, our "pusher" at D'Artagnan, who has gotten us addicted to their truffle butter), and awaited the results. Alas, we didn't win, but we had a fantastic day helping D'Artagnan celebrate their 20th Anniversary. Partnering with local businesses, French wineries, and other sponsors, D'Artagnan put together a fun-filled celebration which they hope to recreate as an annual event. Congratulations, D'Artaganan!
Full photo gallery at Sweet Blog o' Mine (Warning: raw suckling pig photo alert!)
Special thanks to our teammates from the Fifth Avenue Wine
Club Society, Rob, Lauren & Augie.