Quanjude, the iconic Peking roast duck restaurant chain, is under
fire for its plan to use more electric ovens rather than
traditional wood-fired ones at some Beijing branches.
An industry-wide storm has erupted over the proposed changes to
the way the time-honored dish is cooked, revealed last month by
Quanjude Group General Manager Xing Ying.
The move is part of the chain's expansion from 50 to 100
branches around the country by next year. Speaking at the Beijing
Business Summit Forum, Xing said the expansion came in the wake of
its phenomenal performance since its November debut on the Shenzhen
Since becoming China's first catering business to go public,
Quanjude's share price soared 466 percent to 64.53 yuan (US$8.90)
this week. The group will use the 388 million yuan (US$53.5
million) raised to fund new outlets and introduce computerized
"We have cooperated with a German firm to produce
computer-controlled ovens to roast ducks. Computerized ovens, while
guaranteeing quality, simplify, standardize and automate the
roasting process," Xing said.
Peking roast duck is traditionally heated by fruitwood in a
brick oven, imparting the duck with a golden sheen. Traditionalists
have balked at the prospect of a piece of metal replacing a master
chef preparing duck in a wood-fired oven .
Quanjude claims to have produced a computerized oven that can
standardize the time, temperature and humidity of the roasting
An anonymous source at Quanjude said the oven is already used in
some of its outlets where fires are not permitted.
But customers are worried Quanjude's ducks could become akin to
fried chicken sold at fast food outlets. A survey by Beijing
Youth Daily and Sina.com showed 76.8 percent opposed to the
use of electric ovens.
Da Dong, general manager of Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant, has
joined the outcry. "History will prove it is a big mistake," he
"The irony is that Quanjude is applying for intangible cultural
heritage status, but at the same time it is demolishing part of its
culture," Dong said.
"There are two trends in the global catering business - one is
to be very modern and fashionable, another it to keep everything
traditional and become an example of living history," he said.
"I'm not against electric ovens or standardization, but an
excellent example of our culture such as wood-fired roast duck
should be preserved as a vital element of Chinese culinary
Dong said his business will continue to use the traditional
roasting method, which is also the case at Duck King, another
"It is not difficult at all to standardize the traditional duck
roasting process," Dong said. "At the same time, today's science
and technology can well guarantee the efficient filtering of smoke
and oil, and ensure that the fruitwood heating system meets
Quanjude responded to critics by claiming that, to preserve the
original taste, its ducks, which are priced at 168-198 yuan
(US$23-27), would be sprayed with natural fruit juices before they
are cooked. Manual roasting techniques will be retained at some
In Quanjude's corner is 70-year-old Beijing gourmet Liu Dahua,
who believes the use of electric ovens is a development of
traditional culinary culture.
"Society is advancing - people used to eat raw meat, but we now
find prepared meat better. We used to use fire to heat food, but
now we use gas and electricity.
"In the future, we may use other sources of heat such as
microwaves and lasers," he said.
"Heating using fruitwood or an electric oven is not the most
important part of the roasting technique. What is important is to
use a cleaner source of energy," said Liu.
(China Daily January 19, 2008)