Ghost Pepper Challenge brings some serious heat to the benefit of One City Peterborough

Retired OPP constable Dave McNab and Fitzsimmons operations manager Mark Smith square off with the Ghost Pepper Challenge title belt on the line

Mark Smith, operations manager of Fitzsimmons Towing and Repair in Peterborough, and retired Peterborough OPP constable Dave McNabb react after eating a ghost pepper in a fundraising event on October 19, 2021 for One City Peterborough, a Peterborough-based organization that is focused on housing, food security, community safety, and inclusion. (Photo: Paul Rellinger / kawarthaNOW)
Mark Smith, operations manager of Fitzsimmons Towing and Repair in Peterborough, and retired Peterborough OPP constable Dave McNabb react after eating a ghost pepper in a fundraising event on October 19, 2021 for One City Peterborough, a Peterborough-based organization that is focused on housing, food security, community safety, and inclusion. (Photo: Paul Rellinger / kawarthaNOW)

What is it about raising money for, and awareness of, charitable causes that sees people do the craziest things?

Is it notoriety? Is it the lure of attempting something few will undertake? Or is it the desire to gain as much publicity as possible in order to bring attention to the beneficiary?

Dave McNab and Mark Smith checked all the boxes on Tuesday afternoon (October 19) outside Fitzsimmons Towing and Repair on Ashburnham Drive in Peterborough, each taking a sizable bite of a ghost pepper with donated proceeds going to One City Peterborough, a Peterborough-based organization that is focused on housing, food security, community safety, and inclusion.

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So you’re thinking no big deal. Well, consider that the ghost pepper was certified the world’s hottest chili pepper in 2007 by Guinness World Records — 170 times hotter than Tabasco sauce.

Since then, the Trinidad scorpion butch T pepper and the Carolina reaper have been deemed hotter, but the ghost pepper — with a rating well in excess of one million Scoville Heat Units (SHUs) — still packs some very serious heat.

When McNab, a retired Peterborough OPP constable, put out his call for participants for his Ghost Pepper Challenge, Smith — Fitzsimmons’ operations manager — was the only one who answered.

The ghost pepper, also known as bhut jolokia, is rated at more than one million Scoville Heat Units (SHUs). The pepper's intense heat makes it a fixture in competitive chili-pepper eating. (Photo: Chella Palaniappan)
The ghost pepper, also known as bhut jolokia, is rated at more than one million Scoville Heat Units (SHUs). The pepper’s intense heat makes it a fixture in competitive chili-pepper eating. (Photo: Chella Palaniappan)

On Tuesday, each took one bite of their respective ghost peppers before easing their obvious discomfort with gulps of cold milk donated by Kawartha Dairy.

“I have not had one that hot,” said Smith, still trying to catch his breath some 10 minutes after indulging.

“That was wild. I would say Dave lied about it being 1.2 million (SHUs). It was way more than that. I’ve had stuff up to a million and it wasn’t near that bad.”

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“You lose your breath but then, on top of that, the burn sets in. You can feel it in your esophagus going down. It’s quite uncomfortable. I love spicy food but that’s extreme. It’s not something I’d want to do every day, that’s for sure.”

Via Facebook, McNab issued his challenge, giving anyone brave enough the opportunity to take away his self-awarded Ghost Pepper Challenge title belt. Smith says, when he heard of McNab’s challenge, he was all in.

“Years ago, when I worked with another company, Dave worked with us to do some charity work,” he says.

Mark Smith, operations manager of  Fitzsimmons Towing and Repair in Peterborough, and retired Peterborough OPP constable Dave McNabb guzzle milk donated by Kawartha Dairy after eating a ghost pepper in a fundraising event on October 19, 2021 for One City Peterborough. (Photo: Paul Rellinger / kawarthaNOW)
Mark Smith, operations manager of Fitzsimmons Towing and Repair in Peterborough, and retired Peterborough OPP constable Dave McNabb guzzle milk donated by Kawartha Dairy after eating a ghost pepper in a fundraising event on October 19, 2021 for One City Peterborough. (Photo: Paul Rellinger / kawarthaNOW)

“We used to do what was called Toys For Joy, taking toys to the hospital at Christmas. Dave said we were doing this for One City Peterborough. I jumped in. For a couple hours of pain, to make someone’s life better, I though ‘Let’s do it.'”

There being no clear winner besides One City Peterborough, McNab and Smith shared the title belt, holding it aloft for a small group of supporters who came out.

According to McNab, the ghost peppers were grown in his home garden by his wife, veterinarian Kristy Hiltz.

Mark Smith, operations manager of Fitzsimmons Towing and Repair in Peterborough, and retired Peterborough OPP constable Dave McNabb share the title after eating a ghost pepper in a fundraising event on October 19, 2021 for One City Peterborough. McNab holds a bag of ghost peppers grown in his home garden by his wife, veterinarian Kristy Hiltz. (Photo: Paul Rellinger / kawarthaNOW)
Mark Smith, operations manager of Fitzsimmons Towing and Repair in Peterborough, and retired Peterborough OPP constable Dave McNabb share the title after eating a ghost pepper in a fundraising event on October 19, 2021 for One City Peterborough. McNab holds a bag of ghost peppers grown in his home garden by his wife, veterinarian Kristy Hiltz. (Photo: Paul Rellinger / kawarthaNOW)

“Kristy grows ghost peppers, African devils, Thai flame — just about anything that sounds, and is, hot she grows it,” he says.

“About 10 years ago I started really experimenting with hot peppers. About four or five years ago was the first time I tried to eat a raw ghost pepper. I made a video to show how easy it is and it didn’t go well at all. I forgot the pain and tried it again the next year and it wasn’t any better.”

As for no one stepping forward for the challenge besides Smith, McNab blames a poor marketing strategy.

“I’m sure now that everyone sees how much fun it is, they’ll probably be lined up next year,” he says.

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VIDEO: Ghost Pepper Challenge for One City Peterborough

Ghost pepper Challenge for One City Peterborough. Osmow's Kawartha Dairy

Posted by David McNab on Tuesday, October 19, 2021

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Paul Rellinger
Paul Rellinger a.k.a Relly is an award-winning journalist and longtime former newspaper editor still searching for the perfect lead. When he's not putting pen to paper, Paul is on a sincere but woefully futile quest to own every postage stamp ever issued. A rabid reader of history, Paul claims to know who killed JFK but can't say out of fear for the safety of his oh so supportive wife Mary, his three wonderful kids and his three spirited grandchildren. Paul counts among his passions Peterborough's rich live music scene, the Toronto Maple Leafs, slopitch and retrieving golf balls from the woods. You can follow Paul on Twitter at @rellywrites.