Hotelex 2013: Cook-chill opportunity missed in China

A lack of education in China is holding back opportunities to take advantage of catering methods that could reduce waste and expense, according to experts at Hotelex 2013

According to a panel of experts speaking at the Hotelex conference in Shanghai, cultural issues and a lack of training mean that cook-chill practices – common in large-scale catering in Europe and America – are still rare across Asia.

“I think from a manufacturing perspective, we see cook-chill as very much in its infancy in China,” said Tim Smith, group managing director of manufacturing group Williams. “Application of the equipment still has a big leap forward to make, especially compared to what we see in Europe. There will either be a regulatory framework that will push it forward, or else it will be client driven.”

Wayne Wang, application manager and corporate chef in China for Rational, agreed, saying the technology in China was “just beginning. We have a lot of customers that are interested in blast chilling, but in terms of its technical use in Chinese food, it is not widely used.”

Perceptions of freshness in food are also leading to hesitance over the adoption of cook-chill or blast-chill, plus a lack of chef training colleges within China teaching proper use of the practice, the experts said.

“For the moment in Chinese kitchens, we have a different technique for cooking food,” said Wang. “We always like it fresh, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use this system. It just has specific considerations.”

“I think there’s a great potential, but we need to organise and train chefs to use it,” agreed Clara Ng, sales director for South China of Rational, saying the process could solve a lot of issues around mass catering.

Other cultural concerns centred around the cooking of rice in particular, the audience heard.

“If you are just working with a wok now, then the idea you would then chill the food is quite confusing,” said Louis Pang FCSI, production chef at Cathay Pacific Catering Services.

“Chinese people are very particular about how they cook their rice, and there have been some issues around using cook-chill for rice without the right equipment.”

“There a long way for Chinese chefs to understand the cook-chill system,” concluded Pang.

The popularity and rapid growth of fast food restaurants in China has helped to accelerate the use of cook-chill and blast chill in central kitchens, the audience heard, and the Beijing Olympics also went some way to raising the potential of the technology when providing food on a mass scale.

“The capacity at the Olympics was tremendous – there was a huge amount of food to chill,” said Smith.

He added that manufacturers were working with the industry to help improve understanding of the process, including producing a cook-chill guide and recipe book, and supporting the culinary process where possible.

“But fundamentally, this needs to come from the process of regulation,” he concluded.

In a separate session, Pang warned that food safety was the biggest issue facing the Chinese food sector, warning that the penalties for breaking regulations were not enough to scare any irresponsible food and beverige providers.

He called for a single mandatory food service set of regulations to be put in place to protect the public from more food scandals.

 Helen Roxburgh

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