Grandmaster Chef: Levon Aronian

by Alexey Root
6/28/2020 – Levon Aronian is the best chess player in Armenia and is currently ranked number 7 in the world. To show appreciation for Aronian, this article has a recipe for a dish that he might like to eat. And, also, an analysis of one of his wins. WIM Alexey Root tells why Aronian is a Grandmaster Chef honoree. | Photo: David Llada

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Food, love, music

Grandmaster Levon Aronian can cook, according to David Llada, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer for FIDE. Aronian visited Llada’s San Sebastián home at the end of September of 2014. Aronian prepared tahnaboor soup, adding his personal touch, chile serrano, which is not in the original recipe. Around that same time, Aronian bought an apartment in San Sebastián.

Three years later, on September 30, 2017, Aronian married Arianne Caoili. In February of 2020, Aronian and Caoili were at their San Sebastián apartment. On March 10, 2020, he retweeted his wife’s menu, adding the header “Bestest wifey!!” 

On March 15, in Armenia while Aronian remained in Spain, Caoili was in a serious car accident. With coronavirus travel restrictions, Aronian’s return to Armenia was challenging. Nonetheless, he made it back to Yerevan. Tragically, on March 30, 2020, his wife died.

In happier times, in the fall of 2017, I first contacted Aronian via Facebook. He was helpful and pleasant when my son and I interviewed him for our Chess & Music article. Aronian loves music, particularly jazz. Even though Aronian was busy winning the World Cup and getting married, he generously responded to our chess and music questions.

Preparing food, studying chess

The recipe in this article is one of Caoili’s mains, a dish called Imam bayildi. The translation is “the iman fainted.” According to Wikipedia, an iman “swooned with pleasure at the flavour when presented with this dish by his wife.”

Although the recipe and game in this article are in honor of Aronian, other chess players may appreciate this article too. It contains an annotated game to study and a recipe to cook. Unlike the recipe in Grandmaster Chef: Anish Giri, which took minutes to prepare, the recipe in Aronian’s honor takes around 2.5 hours. After preparing the dish, readers could eat their meal while playing over the annotated game.

The recipe

Mike Walder wrote:

Imam Bayildi is eggplant stuffed with spiced tomatoes, onions, and garlic. It is typically served at room temperature or slightly warm for those who cannot wait. One can change the spicing to reflect what is available or what interests the cook. For example, substitute oregano for the basil, or use rosemary instead of mint, or use cardamom instead of cinnamon. Or skip some of those herbs and spices. Use less or more garlic. The permutations go on and on. If this is your first time making Imam Bayildi, you might try following the recipe presented here. Then, next time, play around a bit. 

Note: it might seem like an awful lot of olive oil, but the eggplants will soak it up.

As side dishes to the Imam Bayildi, I served grilled olives and feta cheese. For dessert, I served halva and a cup of coffee spiced with cardamom and made in an ibrik. This Imam Bayildi recipe takes up to 2.5 hours to make and feeds 3.

Iman Bayildi, Levon AronianIngredients

  • 3 medium eggplants
  • 3 large or 6 medium tomatoes (canned if ripe tomatoes not available); peeled and chopped
  • 3 medium onions cut thin
  • 6 garlic cloves minced
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ cup of olive oil
  • 1/3 cup of water
  • 2 ½ teaspoons of pomegranate molasses (or sugar if you cannot find/make)
  • Juice of 1 lemon

[Pictured: Imam Bayildi and Aronian-Karjakin just before 27.Rxf6! (click to enlarge)]


  1. Carefully cut a long deep slit into the eggplants starting at the stem, ending an inch from the other end. Cut as deeply as possible without puncturing the skin on the bottom.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or aluminum foil), brush the paper with olive oil, and place eggplants on paper, slit side up. Put in a 450-degree oven for 20 minutes if cooking Asian long eggplants and 30 minutes if cooking Western eggplants. The skin of the eggplants should start to shrivel, if not keep baking until it does, checking every couple of minutes.
  3. Remove from oven and put the eggplants cut side down into a colander for 30 minutes to lose excess liquid.
  4. Sauté onions in 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a lidded skillet large enough to later accommodate the eggplants or a Dutch oven over medium heat, moving the onions regularly until they are clear and tender.
  5. Add the minced garlic, stir the onion and garlic mix for about 30 seconds, being careful not to burn the garlic. Remove from heat.
  6. In a separate bowl put the tomatoes, herbs, cinnamon, the onion/garlic mix, 1 teaspoon of the pomegranate molasses and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Salt to taste if you must (I don’t). Fold together until evenly incorporated.
  7. Put the eggplants slit side up in your skillet. Press lightly on the stem and the opposing end to open the slits. Fill the slits with the tomato-onion mixture.
  8. Mix the remaining olive oil, pomegranate molasses, water, and lemon juice. Pour around the eggplants. Baste the eggplants with the liquid in the pan. Cover the pan and cook over low heat for 90 minutes, basting every 10 minutes.
  9. Remove from heat and let the eggplants sit in their juices for 20 minutes.
  10. Serve when it is near or at room temperature. Serves three people.

The game  

There are many wins in Aronian’s long career. He was the 2002 World Junior Champion and rose to #2 in the world in 2014. Aronian also led the Armenian national team to the Gold medals in the 2006 (Turin), 2008 (Dresden), and 2012 (Istanbul) Chess Olympiads. I asked my co-author, National Master Mike Walder, to select a recent Aronian win.

The game in this article, Aronian versus Karjakin (2019), has been mentioned in the chess press. For example, the moves immediately before and after Aronian’s exchange sacrifice were highlighted in a ChessBase article. For this Grandmaster Chef article, Walder takes a fresh look at the game and includes some cooking references in his annotations.


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Alexey was the 1989 U.S. Women's Chess Champion and is a Woman International Master. She earned her bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Puget Sound and her doctoral degree in Education at The University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at UT Dallas since 1999 and is a prolific author.


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