Wearing white chef uniforms and hats, four top-ranking chefs from the Quanjude Group, a chain of restaurants renowned for their roast duck
, presented a bouquet of flowers and bowed to Gu Jiuru and Zheng Shaowu, two master chefs who represent the highest level of Chinese cooking.
The ceremony, referred to as a "discipleship ceremony," is a traditional part of many Chinese workplaces. In these ceremonies, "disciples" (workers who are being trained to improve their abilities) bow and serve tea to their "shifu" ("master"), the person responsible for guiding their training.
Although the more traditional aspects of the ceremony are seldom observed, the respect given to the masters by their disciples has never changed.
Of the four top chefs from Quanjude, 38-year-old Yang Huiyu is the youngest. He is in charge of a team of 43 chefs at a Quanjude branch in southwest China's Chongqing
After going through a meticulous selection and examination process administered by Quanjude, Yang finally got the opportunity to acknowledge and pay his respects to Gu at the discipleship ceremony, which was held last Wednesday.
"Chinese dining culture is extensive and profound. I hope to learn about and inherit traditional cultural knowledge from my master Gu," Yang said.
China Quanjude (Group) Co., Ltd. has been around for nearly 150 years and is one of China's most well-known restaurant chains. Although perhaps best known for their roast duck, Quanjude serves a wide variety of Chinese cuisine, all prepared by some of the best chefs in the business.
Quanjude's chefs bear a quote from the late Chairman Mao Zedong in mind while working: "Quanjude should be forever kept." The chefs work to not only innovate in the kitchen, but also maintain traditional Chinese cooking concepts and methods.
Quanjude has made efforts to make apprenticeship an important part of its core corporate culture, inviting the public to attend its discipleship ceremonies over the last two years and abiding by the regulations of China's national apprenticeship organization.
Xing Ying, a general manager at Quanjude, said the discipleship system is intended to preserve traditional Chinese cuisine and allow more people to enjoy authentic tastes from years past.
Gu, a renowned roast duck "expert" and master chef, said he has strived to combine traditional cooking styles with new concepts in the 39 years he has spent working for Quanjude. He describes his cooking as a mixture of Sichuan, Shandong and Cantonese cuisine, as well as the "special flavor of Quanjude."
Gu said top-ranking chefs should make efforts to master a wide swath of cooking skills, such as frying, stewing and roasting, as well as educate themselves on how to properly manage a restaurant.
Gu said he requires all of his students to keep on eye on the restaurant industry and learn from the best practices used by other companies when formulating their own cooking styles.
"Morality and diligence are the essence of Quanjude's culture," Gu said. "Morality is the spirit and diligence is the foundation."
Disciple chef Yu Wusen, another ceremony attendee and a master of Shandong-style cuisine, said he will start studying the Sichuan style of cooking from master chef Zheng Shaowu for the purpose of improving and adding new flavors to his cooking.
Zheng, a 61-year-old master who previously worked as the top chef at Sichuan Restaurant, previously studied under Chen Songru, a master of Sichuan cuisine who once cooked for Chairman Mao.
"One's master is like a father. The most important thing to learn is not how to cook, but how to behave properly," Zheng said. "My master taught me to work diligently and make sure our guests are never let down."