III Mas gives an Armenian twist to Texas barbecue
At III Mas BBQ, 24-year-old chef Arthur Grigoryan unites the smoked meats of the U.S. South with the Middle Eastern flavors he grew up on for a style of cooking he calls “Texas-Armenian barbecue.”
The L.A.-raised chef came up in fine-dining kitchens — working first at Drouant in Paris, then at Château Siaurac in Bordeaux, before returning home to work his way up to the pasta counter at Osteria Mozza.
But that trajectory was upended by his first bite of brisket at Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas, during a 2017 trip to visit his girlfriend’s family.
“Southern barbecue is the pinnacle of American food in my opinion,” Grigoryan says. “I’m taking that from my American side and combining it with my Armenian heritage to do something that represents me.”
III Mas, pronounced “3 Mas,” is named after the working-class district where Grigoryan’s dad grew up and worked in the meat business in Yerevan, Armenia.
Currently a pop-up, III Mas dinners take place monthly in his family’s Sherman Oaks backyard, where a big black smoker abuts the bleached balustrade of a grand mansion. Guests sit before gold-trimmed plates at the side of a swimming pool bar as James Brown sings, shouts and squeals over the sound system.
A selection of mezze with pita arrives first. There’s silky hummus with marinated chickpeas and a bowl of violet-dyed tourshi, pickled beets, cauliflowers and cabbage the chef ferments for 10 days.
Next comes fennel-cucumber tzatziki slaw and airy falafel fried in coriander seed-infused oil, true to his Armenian-Egyptian great-grandmother’s recipe.
Finally a pageant of meats commences, smoked with a blend of red oak and almond wood.
There’s baharat-spiced lamb shoulder smoked for 16 hours and shredded like pulled pork. And a plate lined with opposing cuts of lean and fatty pork belly, ridges heavily rubbed with paprika and summer savory. A side dish brims with baked beans and beef soujouk. The meal culminates with a basturma brisket Grigoryan brines for 10 days before smoking for up to 20 hours.
A thick sauce of pomegranate and Calabrian chiles serves as a tart, spicy substitute for tomato-y barbecue sauce, while mango amba provides an intriguing alternative to South Carolina-style mustard sauce.
The fundamentals of Grigoryan’s barbecue are strong enough to kill on the competition circuit. Meats are smoky, tender and ringed with pink in all the right places, their barks thick with complex spices.
Throughout the meal, the pitmaster explains the varied influences in each dish, disclosing baharat as the favorite seasoning of Iraq’s Chaldean culture, or pointing to basturma’s apocryphal origin story — that Byzantine soldiers rode with salted meats in their saddles to dry them.
In addition to the monthly pop-ups, Grigoryan sells smoked meats in large formats via direct order. A 10-pound brisket costs $260.
Next month, he’s hoping to hit the streets in a new trailer-smoker and to find a reliable place for a public pop-up.
Beyond launching a business, Grigoryan says he wants to take what he’s learned in fine-dining kitchens and at pits in Texas “to evolutionize Armenian cuisine somehow.”
For more information: iiimasbbq.com
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