The Truth About Ara Malekian From BBQ Brawl Season 2

BBQ Brawl is back for season 2, and it's hard to imagine that Michael Symon and Bobby Flay won't duke it out over who gets to claim Ara Malekian for their team. Malekain, who goes by "Chef Ara" on Facebook, worked as executive chef for Wolfgang Puck in Los Angeles before shifting gears and opening up a bring your own beer barbecue restaurant in Richmond, Texas (via Spectrum News 1). It's hard to find a picture of Malekain without a cigar in his mouth. When he's not smoking, he's probably downing an Armenian coffee, which Texas Monthly would urge you to ask for, even though it's not on Malekian's Harlem Road Texas BBQ menu.

Malekian told the local news station, Spectrum News 1, that he's been "hooked" on cooking since his grandma taught him to make sunny-side-up eggs. Armenian born, Malekian spent his early years in Iran, because his pops worked for the Shah (via Spectrum News 1). When he was six, his family sent him to boarding school in Switzerland. That's where he got his first taste of professional cooking. At age 12, the BBQ master was already working at a high-end restaurant, where he told Texas Monthly, Malekian "started washing dishes, prepping, and eventually making sausage."

He got his first taste of Texas BBQ in California, after moving to the states in 1987. But, per Texas Monthly, it's from his Swiss restaurant roots that he picked up his passion for cooking with charcoal and wood.

Ara Malekian thinks barbecue is love

"There's nothing more primal than cooking with fire and smoke," Ara Malekian once told videographer Marc Suarez (via Vimeo). "I love that you can't replicate it in any other way ... that's why I'm doing barbecue." One of the secrets to Malekian's wildly popular restaurant are his ingredients. According to Chron, the BBQ master exclusively uses oak wine staves to smoke his meat. "It gives it a cleaner, sweeter smoke," the chef explained to Texas Monthly.

 As for the sausages, bacon, cheese, and butter that you'll eat at Harlem Road Texas BBQ? They're all made in-house, according to Chron. The fish he serves is cold-smoked over dried grapevines (via Texas Monthly). And no dish that Malekian offers on his menu, from slow-smoked brisket and pork to pulled pork, to chicken, to mac and cheese, to Malekian's famous butterscotch chocolate chip cookies (via Facebook) gets any less attention from the chef. 

That's the second secret to Malekian's success. As the Armenian-born, Swiss-trained, Texan told Suarez, he doesn't serve up "regular everyday barbecue." What you get when you sit down at his restaurant, is something special. "You can truly taste the quality and the love that goes into our product," Malekian told Suarez. "Barbecue to me is about tradition ... it's all about the amount of love that goes into barbecue."