Not long ago, I enjoyed the privilege of chatting up Chrystal Baker and Amir Thomas of The Duo Dishes. An active pair with their fingers in a lot of figurative and literal pies, they are two food lovers after my own heart. They love to taste new things. They recognize food’s power to bring people together. They’re currently participating in the Alexia Foods “Reinvent a Classic” recipe development contest that will feature weekly updates on Chrystal and Amir’s blog through July 20th, 2011, after which four finalists will be chosen. If their blog isn’t proof enough of their appreciation for the cultural impact that food and cooking can carry, then their answers to my nine Food Adventurer Queries, along with Chrystal’s co-hosting a panel called ‘Food Blogging 101’ at this year’s Blogging While Brown conference in L.A. this month certainly are. Did I mention that they’re also great interviewees?
Flavorful World: What is the last previously untried food/dish that you tried and loved on first taste?
Chrystal Baker: One of the best things I’ve enjoyed recently was a Ghanaian Chicken and Peanut Stew. I was following a vegan regimen at the time, so I had a version without meat, but it was still very good. The great thing is that you could stir kale, Swiss chard, spinach or collards into the peanut butter stew at the very end to create a filling meal. We ate it with fufu, and the entire dish was creamy, spicy and satisfying.
Amir Thomas: One of the dishes we created for our Ethnic Exploration series was an Ethiopian meal called Doro Wat. It’s a red pepper spiced chicken dish typically eaten with injera. The moment it hit my tongue, I was in heaven. I immediately wanted more of those flavors.
FW: I have about ¾ cup of Merlot that I’ve been saving to cook with, although I have no idea what to make. I have access to most conventional grocery market meats, seafood, and seasonal vegetables. Help me out with an idea for a dish in which I can utilize this bit of red wine.
AT: One very easy way to use up the wine is to bring it to a boil with a pint of fresh berries–strawberries, blackberries, blueberries–sugar and lemon juice and zest. As the berries cook down, you’ll end up with a thickened jam-like mixture that is perfect over toast, ice cream or meat.
CB: If you want to go the savory route, bring the wine to boil in a pot with a bit of beef broth, fresh thyme, salt and pepper. Stir in a pat of butter and some cream for a great reduction over meats.
FW: More than one culinarian has complained that ramp has been done to death on menus worldwide as of late. Is there any ingredient that you could do quite happily with not seeing for a while because it’s been largely overplayed?
AT: Truffle oil. Now it seems that wherever you go, there’s truffle oil fries, mac & cheese, etc. Sometimes it makes the dish too rich.
FW: Do you think that food’s power to bring people from all walks of life together is equal to or greater than the power of shared appreciation of music, art, or literature to do the same? If greater, what do you suppose it is about food that gives it such an advantage?
CB: The power of food is very strong. It’s a uniting force between friends, families, communities and different cultures and ethnic groups. You can see how food ties people together from the smallest core to the largest entities. It feels good to feed people, to nourish people, to make them feel cared for. Plus, you can feel a sense of joy when people eat a great meal together, whether it’s a birthday or a religious holiday. Food is definitely a powerful way of life.
FW: All over the world, more food festivals are being born every day that join food and/or wine with other arts that enrich our lives. There’s any number of BBQ and Blues, BBQ and Jazz, high tea and chamber music/literary readings, and so on. What festival pairing of food and arts that you have yet to see would you create if your resources were unlimited?
AT: One of my favorite pastimes is watching movies, and it would be great to pair gourmet food with film festivals. Not many people get to experience Cannes or Sundance due to location. If a festival was more accessible with great films while allowing you to eat delicious food during the movie, you’d get to combine food and film in one evening. The food would only enhance the film.
CB: I am a big fan of languages. If there was a way to bring together a vast number of foods from different cultures with interactive cooking demonstrations and language lessons, so you could learn how to properly pronounce Japanese takoyaki, a French boeuf bourguignon or an Italian torta di fragole.
FW: What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions about food enthusiasts, and what response do you offer to that misconception?
AT: Food enthusiasts do not enjoy everything. There are some ingredients or dishes that they may try, and never eat again.
CB: Not every food enthusiast is a food expert. We don’t know how to do every major cooking technique, and some food enthusiasts are not even interested in cooking. They may just want to eat, and there’s nothing wrong with that!
FW: What fictional eatery from television, film, music, or literature would you most like to visit if you could, and what would you order? Why did you select this place?
AT: One of my guilty pleasures is fast food, although I’m trying to ‘cut back’. I would enjoy a burger from Krusty Burger, Krusty the Klown’s famous eatery, on the Simpsons. I grew up watching the Simpsons with Homer and Bart eating the burgers, and I would love to do the same.
CB: I would go to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. It may not be an eatery, but there were more treats there than the average person could ever consume in a lifetime. Plus, there was a freaky magical mystery about the entire place that would make you feel honored to be there. The first thing I’d ask for was the gum that tasted like a three-course meal!
FW: Excluding the name of any of your pre-existing blogs, websites, or print/online personas, tell us what name you would give to your memoir about your culinary exploits.
AT: The Pancake Chronicles. I love pancakes, and it was my interest in learning how to make great pancakes that led me to enjoying the cooking process.
CB: Around the World with 80 Forks. I want to travel everywhere and experience the world through its food. I love learning about dishes, recipes and food practices of other people, so it’d be a dream for me to document that in a memoir.
FW: When you aren’t cooking and/or eating delicious foods, how do you most enjoy spending your time?
AT: I love watching movies and listening to music. I’m always listening to music in my car, on the beach or hanging out at home.
CB: I love to spend time outdoors, so I’ll go hiking or running. We live in Southern California, so it’s pretty easy to take advantage of the good weather. I also enjoy reading and listening to books on tape. Southern California is also known for its traffic, so a book on tape will save your life and sanity in the car!
Thank you, Chrystal and Amir, for sharing your wonderful insights (and for giving me an idea about what to do with that leftover sip of Merlot!)
*Note to readers: If this interview has whetted your appetite for all that this duo dishes then you have to subscribe to their blog, The Duo Dishes. They’re followable on Twitter. They’re beautifying Flickr with images of their delicious creations. They’re the best thing you haven’t yet discovered on YouTube, and they’re on Facebook waiting to be your friend. The Blogging While Brown conference begins tomorrow July 8th, 2011 and runs through July 10th, 2011.