Maria Bizri with daughters Leia and Maya
Age: Maria 43, Leia 12, and Maya 8
Occupation: Founder of Pomegranate Kitchen
Favourite activities: Cooking and eating together
Celebrity chef idols: Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay (Leia and Maya)
Favourite foods: Bamya (Maria), rice-stuffed vine leaves (Leia), Leia’s cauliflower and cheese (Maya)
Wong Chuk Hang hides some of Hong Kong’s most intriguing gems, which have sprung up in industrial venues. One such space is Pomegranate Kitchen, a catering and events company located in an unexpected, yet fitting, location. Exit the old school lift and you find a space that is elegant and inviting – a long dining table sets the scene and an open kitchen and pantry add to the homely vibe. There is also a terrace, illuminated by fairy lights and embellished with blooming white flowers, that is perfect for alfresco dining and parties. Pomegranate Kitchen offers Eastern Mediterranean dishes, with a distinct South East Asian influence from Maria Bizri’s experience of living and eating around Asia.
Bizri moved to Hong Kong from Jakarta almost five years ago. Born in the UK and raised in the Middle East, she began her career as a journalist, changing industries when her family moved cities. “A friend and neighbour who loved my food made me decide to cook professionally,” says Bizri. She is inspired by her Lebanese roots, and is armed with a barrage of recipes passed down from her mother, though her food is anything but traditional. “I’m not traditional by nature, to be honest,” she divulges. “Middle Eastern and Mediterranean spices and flavours are the vein of everything I make, but I don’t like to copy things, I make them my own.”
Her dinner parties became infamous, and she was asked to cater for a gallery event. Though initially skeptical, Bizri gave in, and soon after started hosting dinners at her home. “Eventually my husband got tired of people he didn’t know coming in and out of our home and not being able to eat the food I was serving, so he found me this space.”
Watching Bizri in the kitchen cannot be done without awe; she moves around the space effortlessly, deftly removing the seeds from a pomegranate with a wooden spoon while directing her daughters on what to wear. Leia and Maya are completely at ease in the kitchen as well. While Maya is more chatty and eccentric, Leia – named for the princess of Star Wars fame and coincidentally born on the same day as Carrie Fisher – is more soft spoken, peering over her mother’s shoulder to gain expert tips as she preps.
“Since they were born, we’ve cooked. I always felt my main job as a mother was to feed, to nourish not only their souls but also their stomachs,” shares Bizri. “I focus on making them healthy and balanced foods, though they’re becoming great cooks themselves! Our favourite time to talk about the day is when we are prepping for dinner and sit to eat.” The girls take some time to share their favourite cooking tips – throw pasta at the wall to test if it is ready, according to Maya – and dishes. Leia confesses that she would like to meet chef Marco Pierre White and would love to be on Junior Masterchef.
Dinners at Pomegranate Kitchen can be a leisurely affair. “I really wanted to offer that Mediterranean feel of a long meal around the table, with plates arriving endlessly and conversation flowing. I think I wanted to recreate my grandparents’ kitchen,” Bizri says with a smile. It’s clear that for Bizri and her family, cooking and eating is something that evokes feelings and memories – of their roots, of family, but most of all, of love.