BLACK VOICES
02/12/2012 11:55 am ET Updated Feb 12, 2012

The Duo Dishes Bloggers, Chrystal Baker And Amir Thomas, At Sunday Dinner

Chrystal Baker and Amir Thomas are foodies, friends and the masterminds behind the successful food blog The Duo Dishes, but make no mistake -- they're not a couple. Not in the romantic sense, anyway. The long-time BFFs simply share a love for food and for throwing dinner parties where they can serve it up, though their years of cooking together has yielded a certain chemistry in the kitchen that we can all learn from.

The duo's first joint venture into cooking -- a graduation party for mutual friends -- and the blog that would result from its success, all happened on a whim, Chrystal admits. Whimsy, it turns out, would be a cornerstone of their approach to food and the recipes they dream up for their growing blog audience.

"As a kid I would always hang out in the kitchen with my aunts and my grandmother and just watch," Amir says. "That's when I really learned that you can totally manipulate the food however you want. As I got older, I [realized] 'Wow, I can make whatever I want, whenever I want," he says, like the pancakes he adapted from the Joy Of Cooking cookbook after a craving set in at the age of 10.

INSPIRATION EVERYWHERE
Chrystal calls their approach to food "fusionistic," doting on Los Angeles' many ethnic neighborhoods and the inspiration they offer. "We have the highest number of Armenians outside of Armenia, the same for Thai. We obviously have a really large Mexican community, but there's a really large South American community as well," she says.

Combine that with Los Angeles' Caribbean, French and Russian influences, and the duo's roots in the Midwest and Northeast, not to mention North Carolina where they went to college together, and you get dishes like Catfish Tacos with Pimento Cheese Crema and Watermelon Salsa and a monthly series called Ethnic Exploration that experiments with ingredients Chrystal and Amir have never tried before.

"Those [tacos] really speak to the heart of the food that we ideally love to cook -- things that are rooted in a soulfulness, that southern tradition, but elevated to something new," Amir says. California adds an extra something special to the mix, offering fresh ingredients and an element of creativity that goes beyond simply adding avocado and calling it "Californian," he adds.

4 WAYS TO CULTIVATE YOUR KITCHEN CHEMISTRY
  • Divide and Conquer -- Splitting up a recipe before you begin is the best way to both stay on task and stay out of each other's way while you cook.
  • Stay In Your Lane -- This doesn't mean you can't get more adventurous down the road, but when you start cooking with someone else, it's probably best to stick to the tasks you're strongest at or most interested in doing. "I love the chop things, so I'll volunteer to cut and [Amir will] be on the stove, stirring and measuring" Chrystal says. "I don't do animal parts; I'm not good with whole animals. So when it comes to chickens, I'm usually like 'You just go ahead and cut that," she jokes.
  • Feel Free To Freestyle -- "Don't get too bogged down on the recipe," Amir says. "If it says 1/4 cup of something and you added a little too much, it's fine. Taste it, and maybe you want to compensate by adding a little extra this or a little less of that."
  • Wine (Before You) Dine -- Half the battle is in your partner's hands, so focus on making the overall experience fun and fuss-free. How Chrystal and Amir do it? "We always have music on and we usually have wine out, she says. "Cooking is not so much about the ingredients, it's about the experience and what comes after that," she adds.

Here, The Duo Dishes share their go-to recipes for an inviting evening with friends or significant others.

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CONVERSATIONS