5/30/2013 - If you’ve ever said that the main ingredient in a meal is love, you’ve already taken your first step into “kitchen witchery.”
Dawn Hunt is known as the “Kitchen Witch” and is the owner of Cucina Aurora in Salem. Her infused olive oils and other products got her noticed by Fox Television, leading to a spot on the new season of the Gordon Ramsay show MasterChef (airing Wednesdays at 8 p.m.).
“Cucina Aurora kitchen witchery is based around my spiritual path, which is pagan,” Hunt said. “Pagan is not necessarily about being a ‘witch.’ Paganism is a blanket term to describe an earth-based spiritual path. Kitchen witchery is about putting love and positive intention into the food.”
Cucina Aurora offers five different kinds of infused olive oils: roasted garlic, rosemary and oregano, sun-dried tomato and basil, peppercorn and sage and the newest, hot pepper. Hunt said that the roasted garlic is the best seller and suggest using it to saute vegetables, in shrimp scampi and to pan fry chicken cutlets. She said the sun-dried tomato and basil is great in a caprese salad, hot or cold pasta salads or with pan-seared salmon steaks. For the rosemary oregano, she suggests roasting sweet potatoes in it at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.
Other items available from Cucina Aurora include dip mixes with some versatility as well.
“I have a garlic and herb dip mix and most of my customers call it my ‘Punch you in the face’ dip mix. I’ll go to an event and they will come back and say, ‘Last time I was here you punched me in the face with something,’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, the garlic,’” Hunt said. “It’s super garlicky, and that’s what I am known for. I have a toasted onion dip and [a new] chocolate cinnamon dessert dip. The garlic, dry right out of bottle, I put in mashed potatoes. The onion one I put in hamburger meat for onion burgers, and the dessert dip I sprinkle in my coffee.”
Hunt has a gluten allergy and also offers gluten-free cookie mix flavors of double dark chocolate hazelnut and cinnamon oatmeal raisin.
Cucina Aurora began in Hunt’s kitchen on Long Island, N.Y. in 2008. But a fire destroyed her home in 2009, and she and her husband Justin decided to move to New England. They settled in North Andover, Mass., and in 2012, Hunt opened the Cucina Aurora space in Salem, where she can cook, teach classes and sell her products.
Hunt said the idea behind kitchen witchery is to prepare food with good intentions.
“Everyone has always said that love is the most important thing that we put in our food. And that is what my company is based on,” Hunt said. “You need to always make sure you are always doing it for the greater good. It’s always with intentions of the highest possible good for yourself and others and to harm no one. That’s super important.”
Hunt said that many people prepare food in this way without even realizing it.
“If you’ve ever been sick and you make some chicken soup, and as you’re stirring that chicken soup you’re thinking, ‘I cannot wait until this is done and I’m going to eat this and the broth is going to hit my mouth and I’m going to feel so much better,’” Hunt said. “As you’re stirring that soup, your intention is that this soup is going to make you feel better. That’s what you’re thinking and the energy that you’re putting in. That energy comes out of you and goes into whatever you’re doing. It’s being mindful and using visualization techniques and energetic techniques with your food.”
Hunt’s spot on MasterChef came from a phone call she received in October. The show was looking for someone to represent the pagan community, and Hunt was invited to Boston to audition after preparing a meal.
“You don’t say no to that. I had to go and make a dish, and I made a spicy pumpkin chowder and a fall hearty greens salad, and I baked a loaf of wheat berry and beer bread with honey butter,” she said. “I get a call before Christmas, and they tell me I’ve been chosen as one of the top 100 in the country.”
Hunt said she then had to get to work deciding what meal she would make to present to the judges.
“You have to perfect it. It has to be something that represents who you are, and it has to be the best meal you’ve ever made in your life, and you have to do it in an hour,” Hunt said. “I did nothing for a month but study. Every day I was in the grocery store and every night I was cooking big meals. I had to work on baking and that was the hardest part because I’m gluten-free. How do you make a traditional pie crust and make it delicious and then I can’t even taste it?”
Hunt said the experience was enjoyable, but at first she felt like she was in over her head.
“I’m not a fame seeker. I just want to do what I do and pay my bills and pay my girls (on staff) and create this company that means something to me and means something to the community. I would never in a million years have chosen to do this. It fell in my lap,” Hunt said. “Once I got to talking with everyone [on the show] I thought, ‘Maybe I do belong.’ People were fantastic. The experience was very surreal. There’s no way to describe it. It’s like a dream and then you come back to your real life and wonder if it actually happened. The judges were amazing. I think they get a bad rap, but they were lovely people.”
You can catch Hunt on MasterChef (though due to her contract she can’t reveal how she did) and check out her products at cucinaaurora.com