Duck producer doubted for planned computerized cooking

Updated: 2008-01-14 22:27

China's oldest Peking duck restaurant chain, Quanjude (Group) Co., Ltd., has come under fire from the public as it plans to use electric ovens to replace traditional hand-roasting procedures in cooking ducks.

The electric ovens, based on computerized operation jointly developed by Quanjude and a German company, will keep the handmade techniques and simplify roasting procedures, said Xing Ying, general manager with Quanjude, earlier.

Many of the Beijing-based outlets, particularly those in other regions of the country, must use the new ovens that will ensure quality standards and automatic duck production, according to Xing.

"We common people not only eat Quanjude duck for its flavour, but also for the hundreds of years of tradition and culture that our ancestors left to us," Han Xiao, a local resident in Beijing, was quoted by Monday's China Youth Daily as saying.

"The latter is the precious part that cannot be bought," Han said.

According to a survey jointly conducted by the newspaper and the portal, 76.8 percent of the respondents opposed the plan, while 62.8 percent worried that the move might turn Peking ducks into "fast food."

"If Quanjude uses electric ovens to cook its ducks then what difference is there from KFC?" many customers surveyed voiced their doubts.

A respondent was quoted as saying that "Automation and standardization are good, but they are not the 'Bible' for every industry."

"The reason why Quanjude can sell one duck at the hefty price of 198 yuan (about 27.3 US dollars) is that the duck was a handmade work of art instead of a product churned out on a production line."

In the traditional way, the duck is hung in the oven roasted by flames burning from fruitwood. It takes about 45 minutes for the duck to be done and chefs keep adjusting the duck to ensure it's evenly roasted.

The company, which sells more than three million ducks a year to some five million patrons, has raised 388 million yuan (52 million US dollars) on the Shenzhen bourse after it became listed late last year to support its goal of growing into an international brand.

Quanjude has nine restaurants in Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing and Changchun and 61 franchised outlets, including 56 on the mainland and five overseas.

Founded in 1864 during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the last imperial rulers of China, it is one of the most renowned restaurants in China. Eating roast duck has become a main attraction for overseas tourists.

The company posted net profits of 25.62 million yuan (3.46 million US dollars) in the first quarter of 2007 with about 600 million yuan in total assets (82 million US dollars).

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