Season 2 of BBQ Brawl just aired its season finale after 10 episodes of competition, smoke, and barbecue love. The twelve contestants on this season ranged from seasoned pit masters, competition cookers, food truck owners, and former Chopped Champions. The cuisines featured within each barbecue dish was just as varied, with Christopher Prieto (Prime Barbecue in Knightdale) utilizing Puerto Rican, Peruvian, and South American influences in his dishes, while Brittany Bo Baker (Bubba’s Q Food Trucks) utilized Caribbean flavors to separate her que from the competition.
Who I really want to talk about is Chef Ara Malekian of Harlem Road Texas BBQ. Being a Houston native, I have frequented Harlem Road more times than one can reasonably mention without embarrassment. I use “chef” as opposed to “pit master” to describe Ara because as you watch Season 2 of BBQ Brawl, you’ll notice the huge range of cooking styles by the formal Wolfgang Puck Executive Chef. Dubbed the “Silver Fox of BBQ” by judges Rodney Scott, Brooke Williamson, and Carson Kressley, you won’t catch Ara without his signature black cowboy hat, dark chef coat, and perfectly groomed handlebar mustache.
Ara’s first dish in the ‘Introduce your ‘Cue’ episode was a white onion marinated smoked lamb chop seasoned with sumac that he features as a special at his restaurant. I think Ara’s cooking was to show that if it “walks, flies, or swims” he can break it down and cook it. Even though Ara was picked second from last in the first round of Episode 1, the man in black held his ground throughout the 10-episode season keeping Team Michael in the game the whole way.
Other notable dishes from Ara include his smoked octopus, which is poached in red wine and finished on the grill, a cold smoked tuna sashimi, glazed with a Japanese BBQ sauce and crusted with togarashi seasoning, and his smoked beef rib which Symon claimed was better than any beef rib he had tried or even cooked himself.
The variety that Ara displayed throughout the competition reflects the expanding boundaries of American Barbecue. In Houston we have seen a huge push into the “fusion” of different cuisines into traditional Texas BBQ, most notability Khoi BBQ and their Vietnamese dishes like smoked brisket pho. Ara truly introduced an audience to the fine dining side of smoke through versatility and craftmanship.
SPOILER WARNING, we are going to talk about who won!
Ara would eventually place in the top three of the group of 12, with Erica Blaire Roby (Blue Smoke Blaire) taking home the coveted title of “Master of ‘Cue’, but that doesn’t change the fact Ara remains a staple in the Texas BBQ community. There isn’t a meeting I have with someone in the food service industry where Ara’s name isn’t mentioned; whether he gave the individual some helpful advice, made a connection for an inspiring chef to further their career or ambitions, or that he simply made a guest an Armenian coffee because they looked like they needed a pick me up.
Be sure to watch Season 2 of BBQ Brawl to get your eyes on some amazing que, and then head to Harlem Road Texas BBQ to get your belly full!
Harlem Road Texas BBQ
9823 Harlem Rd, Richmond, TX 77407
Images for this post are from barbecuebros.co (who did an incredible write up on several episodes of BBQ Brawl, and from https://www.foodnetwork.com/shows/bbq-brawl-flay-v-symon/photos/meet-the-contenders-bbq-brawl-season-2