Roald Dahl’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has the enigmatic Willy Wonka inviting a group to tour his magical factory, where favorite sweets and treats are made. Wonka’s prized and most crucial room in the factory is the Chocolate Room — a meadow of flowers, trees, and a river — all made of sugar and chocolate.
“Everything in this room is edible,” Wonka tells his guests, astounded by the breadth and beauty of delights. There’s a bit of that same wonderment when walking through the Eastside’s own Wonka-verse, a 14,000-square-foot kitchen and prep space in Redmond nested in an office park since 2005.
Racks of fresh-baked artisan bread cool alongside busy cooks as they bustle about, prepping ingredients for catering clients and the café just outside the kitchen. Long tables covered with multilayered cakes and desserts await finishing touches by pastry artists. Amid the energy is Lisa Dupar, chef and founder of Lisa Dupar & Company, who manages to keep her catering business; Pomegranate Bistro and cocktail bar, an espresso and pastry café; and specialty chocolate-making all under one roof. It’s like Willy Wonka’s factory, but better — they’ve got chicken and waffles.
There really is a chocolate room in Dupar’s extensive headquarters. It’s off to the side of the main space, dedicated to making chocolate and specialty sugar work. Unlike Dahl’s whimsical imagination, it’s a functional wonderland of marble-top tables, mixers, and a constant aroma of vanilla.
A newer addition, the room was set up to create handmade chocolates after the team learned techniques from a renowned chocolatier.
Confection making is delicate, using mercurial ingredients that require a measured push and pull of temperature adjustment, which Dupar and her team transform into magic. They’ve designed a Bean to Bar table for events where guests choose their chocolate, fill individual-sized bar molds with different ingredients, and once set, it’s given as a party favor. At a recent Miami Beach-themed event, they came up with the idea for people to “roll” their own chocolate cigars for a souvenir. Guests at the bistro ordering dessert or a café regular grabbing a pastry probably don’t even realize that curl of chocolate decorating a slice of cake and the tray of airbrushed truffles were all made only a few steps away.
Like her multilayered business, Dupar exceeds perceptions. As a teen in South Carolina, she wasn’t babysitting for a side job; she was learning to decorate cakes, entertaining the notion of becoming a pastry chef.
Dupar did culinary apprenticeships in the States and in Switzerland, working in historic grand hotels, learning classic techniques, and absorbing the intangible life experience that comes only from living abroad. “It was amazing,” she said, encouraging others to do the same. “I wouldn’t trade that for anything.” Dupar’s extensive skill set includes traditional butchery techniques, which she still favors along with cake decorating. “I love it,” she said. “If I end up going back to help in the kitchen, I’m either in the pastry shop or the butcher shop.”
Dupar continued to work for luxury hotels and then her own restaurant, serving favorite Southern dishes. She could design meals and menus to satisfy 50 or 500, but most importantly, her time in Europe emphasized the importance of work/life balance. As Dupar grew her family, she focused on catering, making it easier to have a more flexible schedule, a work ethic that continues today. Pomegranate Bistro offers traditional restaurant shifts; there’s a separate evening crew for the bakery that makes the breads and pastries, and catering attracts employees that juggle multiple careers.
Dupar loves this dynamic and the ability of food to nourish both appetite and self isn’t lost on her. “We’re in a creative business — what can you do for somebody to make them happy?” she says. “We build community and have fun together while we’re doing it. I want a place where we can grow as individuals together and become better people.”
Having that experience and developing multiple businesses in one location seems expertly planned, but Dupar admits it was unscripted. Like the creation of a piece of art, it grew and revealed itself over time. Catering had an early following as tech companies expanded across the Eastside. Her reputation got her company on Martha Stewart’s radar for a grand Seattle wedding; they’ve prepared presidential dinners; and somewhere between all that, the Pomegranate Bistro cookbook Fried Chicken & Champagne was written. A first-time cookbook author, Lisa and her small team of an editor and a photographer jumped in, letting instinct drive them. They joked with one another as they worked for a solid six months that it would totally win something, just to keep their energy up. It was only fitting that the International Association of Culinary Professionals awarded them the Julia Child Award for first-time cookbook authors in 2011.
Dupar’s Wonka-like culinary ecosystem is incredible, but at its heart is the bistro’s perfect name. It was Dupar’s daughter who suggested “pomegranate.” Long before its superfood status, ancient Egyptians equated pomegranates with prosperity and ambition. To many cultures, they symbolize abundance. The way the fruit creates chambers for each gem-like aril to flourish is the same nurturing encouragement Dupar’s team experiences in this unique environment, and it makes every bite that much sweeter. Learn more about Lisa Dupar & Company at duparandcompany.com.