From Gridiron to Grill
BY ERIK LOYD, Californian staff writer
Can you smell what Big Mike is cooking?
If you can, you're at a function being catered by Mike Ariey, owner of Big
Mike's Ragin' BBQ in Bakersfield. Ariey is becoming known around the area for his food and service, a change from a time when everyone knew him as an offensive tackle with the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers.
He's as confident today as he was when he was getting paid to bash heads in the
National Football League.
"I know I'm going to make it," he said.
Recent customers have nothing but praise for Ariey and his crew. Check out
some of the scouting reports from events he catered:
"Loved his chicken. The marinade was outstanding. I think I had about six pieces of the chicken by itself."
Ralph Fruguglietti, owner of Frugatti's Italian Eatery and founder of annual charity event Brews in the Village
"He's unbelievable. I couldn't say enough good about the man. The food is great, everything is great. Wonderful."
Kelly Story, food chairman of the local Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation's annual Walk to Cure Diabetes fundraiser
"It went great. Everybody was saying how good everything was. We were very pleased."
Mike Dewar, co-owner of Dewar's Candy Shop
Ariey, 42, experienced what every pro football player knows: NFL careers are usually brief. So after a few bruising years in the league, the Garces High School and San Diego State standout came home and got into business in 1991, co-owning a retail athletic store with his mother, Lucine, and a brother, Randy.
When the store closed about six years later, Ariey started selling fresh produce. That got him a little closer to his true passion -- cooking -- but it wasn't quite right.
"I decided that selling food wasn't something I wanted to be doing," he said.
His calling came when he catered the wedding reception of another brother, Jon, in 2003. Ariey served honey-glazed chicken, ranch beans and more. It was such a hit, he knew it was time to do it for a living.
"It's not work to me," he said. "To me, it's enjoyment."
Today, Ariey retains three cooks full time and six helpers as needed. He tows a custom barbecue rig to each event, whipping up dinner on the spot for groups of 25 to 2,000.
His menu features familiar barbecue fare -- tri-tip, chicken, pork ribs, beans, potato salad and the like, and he makes his own cuts of meat, marinades, rubs and sauces. But he'll take a stab at special requests.
"I've done everything from soul food to seafood," he said.
Looking ahead, Ariey is thinking about establishing a kitchen to augment the mobile operation. He's even toying with the idea of opening a restaurant.
Because Ariey is an expert in barbecuing, he has a definite answer to the age-old question: charcoal or wood?
"We've found that mesquite charcoal is the best," he said.