Wake up and smell the spices

Step through the front door of Deborah Turner-Davis's home in downtown Whitehorse and the aroma of ginger wafts over to greet you. Two dehydrators full of the stuff sit on her kitchen counter.

Step through the front door of Deborah Turner-Davis’s home in downtown Whitehorse and the aroma of ginger wafts over to greet you.

Two dehydrators full of the stuff sit on her kitchen counter. Industrial-sized tubs of spices are stacked on top of each other, and a stand near the back door holds countless Ziploc bags of dried leeks and morel mushrooms and peppers. “Smell this,” she says, prying one open.

Turner-Davis’s kitchen is her workshop. She runs The Twisted Gourmet, selling homemade spice blends, salts and sugars around the city, at Midnight Sun Emporium, Wykes Your Independent Grocer, the Yukon Transportation Museum, Riverside Grocery and the Fireweed Community Market.

Starting next month, Real Canadian Superstore will carry her products, too.

Turner-Davis launched the company last fall, a side project to her day job in communications at the Yukon Employees’ Union. Already, business is booming.

She spends her nights and weekends chopping and grinding, loading up her dehydrators in the mornings before she leaves for work.

“The idea of doing this has been cooking around in my head for a long time,” Turner-Davis says, sipping coffee at the large marble-topped island where spice magic happens.

Turner-Davis was born in Vancouver and moved to Yellowknife in 1990 for “the classic one year,” as she puts it. Twenty years ago, she moved to Whitehorse, and she taught at the Northern Lights School of Dance for 10 years.

Back then, she was a “boring cook,” by her own admission. She prepared meals every day for her three children, and it was standard fare: meat, potatoes and the like. She cooked because she had to, not because she loved to.

One day, her nine-year-old daughter asked: “Does dinner always have to be boring?”

“That launched me into really playing in the kitchen,” Turner-Davis says. She went through an Indian food phase, then a Thai food phase, making her own chili paste.

She started handing out tins of rosemary and basil salts to friends at Christmas time.

For about a year, she mulled over the idea of taking her new hobby a step further and making it a business. (She used to make jewellery, and sold it under the name Twisted Designs.)

Turner-Davis noticed that, locally, no one else was making spices that used Yukon-harvested ingredients. She decided to fill the void.

She can’t get all her ingredients from the territory’s wilderness, but the morels in her Yukon Wild Morel Mushroom Blend come from two local suppliers.

The Yukon Wild Cranberry Poultry Blend uses wild sage, plucked from along the clay cliffs behind her house, and berries she picks every fall.

“I’m a passionate forager,” Turner-Davis says. “It’s really hard to go anywhere with me because I’m always looking at the ground and looking off the trail, fascinated by what you can do with what grows here.”

Rosemary features prominently in many of her recipes. She grows it in the backyard.

“Rosemary is my deserted-island herb,” she says. “If I’m ever stranded, I need that. I can live without everything else.”

Turner-Davis also dries everything herself. Why?

“You just don’t get that same intensity of flavour with any of the ingredients that you can buy already dried down,” she says. To prove her point, she picks some dried ginger out of her dehydrator and fishes a coffee grinder out of a cupboard.

With a whir, it’s transformed into a fine powder. Turner-Davis scoops some up with a spoon and offers a sample. The taste is sharp, firing up the taste buds. Then she walks over to the pantry and grabs some store-bought ginger to sample. It’s bland, less exciting.

The community’s response to The Twisted Gourmet has been positive. People post photos of their meals on its Facebook page, showing Turner-Davis how they used her products in their cooking.

On her website, she offers recipes that incorporate her spice blends, like a wild mushroom-blend orzo, zesty lime chili chayote squash and sweet salty ginger roasted butternut squash.

Turner-Davis says the community, with both retailers and residents supporting local start-ups, is an incubator for people like her.

As demand grows, production will ramp up to match it. Turner-Davis can’t help but think about the future of The Twisted Gourmet. It’s looking bright.

As sun pours in the kitchen windows, over on her computer in the living room, her new logo design is visible on the screen. On the table are a handful of little packets—Kickass Cowboy, with cumin, coriander, and smoky chipotle, as well as the morel blend—each proudly bearing a red “Made in Yukon” sticker.

“It could be a thing,” says Turner-Davis of what’s now just a passion project, sounding a little in awe. She says she may need to hire someone soon to help her. She’ll need a bigger, 10-tray dehydrator and stronger coffee grinders, too.

Does she see The Twisted Gourmet becoming her full-time job?

“I don’t know if I’d want it to be,” she says. “There’s a danger when you over-monetize the thing you love.”

Now, Turner-Davis says she’s happy working at the YEU and spending her spare time picking, prepping, chopping and mixing.

For more information, visit twistedgourmet.ca

Contact Rhiannon Russell at