Like many young people during the early 1970s, Terence Chi began working at the tender age of 13. He started as an assistant at a provisions shop before becoming a welder in a shipyard. Later, he eventually found himself working at a roast duck stall, where he learned the ropes of charcoal roasting. Fast forward to a few years later, in 1983, Terence decided to take his learnings to start Guan Chee Hong Kong Roasted Duck, specialising in authentic Hong Kong cuisines.
Together with his wife, Conica, Terence led the team at Guan Chee to elevate their signature charcoal roast method. Over time, they perfected the craft of charcoal roasting by mastering fire control and experimenting with various charcoal types.
Guan Chee’s secret?
Charcoal roasting creates what Terence calls the “gor zar bi”, or dialect for ‘古早味’ in Chinese. Translated, it means ‘traditional flavour’ in English. This flavour is characterised by the crispy skin, tender and juicy meat, and the familiar wok-hei flavour that locals love.
While charcoal roasting produces the most flavourful meats, it is not an easy skill to learn by any means. It’s a laborious, arduous skill that requires years to fully master. According to Terence, it takes anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to train a chef to fully master the art of charcoal roasting. But he believes it is worth it.
With this passion and conviction, Guan Chee became quite the household name in the Hougang region. The store receives up to a whopping 1,000 orders of ducks and suckling pigs during the Lunar New Year season every year. Despite their relative success and easy access to alternative roasting methods now, Terence and Conica still insist on charcoal-roasting each and every duck that they sell.
“Even though gas and electric-powered roasters are cheaper and faster, we believe that charcoal roasting brings out the true flavour of the duck. That’s how we’ve been doing it for almost 40 years, and we don’t believe in compromising on the quality.”
— Terence Chi, Guan Chee Hong Kong Roasted Duck
Staying true to their beliefs
This persistence is seen even in Guan Chee’s expansion efforts. Terence and Conica refuse to set up shop in food courts that do not have charcoal roasters. While some might question their uncompromising insistence on honouring tradition and time-honoured methods, the couple believe their success is precisely because of their emphasis on quality control.
“Going back to the basics, I think as long as our food is good, customers will come. This is why we insist on charcoal roasting our ducks.”
Conica Lee, Guan Chee Hong Kong Roasted Duck
“Our customers are used to our flavour, and we know they come back for that taste… We will continue to deliver this familiar flavour that they’ve grown to love,” shares Conica.