When Canadian duck met Imperial Chinese cuisine it was an “East meets West” match made in Heaven…or Markham. Welcome to a duck dynasty.
The unofficial embassy of the specialized culinary heritage of Peking duck is QJD (Quan Ju De), established in Beijing in 1864. Now, over 150 years later, to our great anticipation and delight, QJD has been licensed to operate in Toronto, the first location in North America.
Chinese food is delicate, complicated and labour-intensive. Ingredients must be high quality, and kitchens are massive in order to prepare the myriad dishes on the menus. High-end service is classic, and requires captains. As different as the kitchens are between east and west, so too is the method of service. At QJD, all of this must meet the standard of its tradition.
In our VIP room our personalized chef wheels in the first course on a trolley; a lacquered-crisp duck. The chef is from Beijing; the duck is free range from Ontario. True to the authentic QJD style of preparation in Beijing, the duck is served in stages. First, thickly sliced crispy skin is offered with a mound of sugar. While indulging in the crunch, we are transfixed on the chef’s artistry as he deftly carves the duck and arranges each delicate slice to fill out the shape of a Peony, symbolizing wealth and happiness. This was the official dinner presentation at the 2014 APEC gathering in Yanqi Lake, outside Beijing. A bamboo steamer reveals warm rice flour pancakes in which to roll the tender morsels of duck, along with cucumber and Hoisin sauce.
Tableside, our server mixes a refreshing towering salad of taro root, radish, cucumber and Chinese cabbage with a tantalizing sweet, sour and mildly spicy dressing. This we add to our duck as we fold the pancake into a delectably textured packet of flavour. Had this been the main course, we would have left gratified. After all, the QJD method is unique—there is no other in Toronto that follows this exact cooking method. We would have been happily sated knowing we indulged in this authentic delicacy, and that it was everything we remembered it to be in Beijing. Except…this is just our first course. There is so much more to come.
“Beautiful food makes people happy,” our server tells us, as he ladles wok-fried abalone, pine nuts, mushrooms and chili peppers into crisp puff pastry bowls. We have never been served abalone in this manner before. The crisp shells add another element to this complex dish of clean flavours and textures. Pickerel, a beautiful firm-fleshed white fish from our cold northern lakes, is treated to Chinese preparation with dramatic flare. A generous portion, boned and lightly fried to a delicate crunch, is lavished in a light sweet and sour sauce.
There is no MSG here; no preservatives; everything is homemade and handmade to unimpeachable excellence. Canada beef has never been more tender than with this mélange of perfectly cooked mango and peppers. A platter of firm plump shrimp, fresh from the wok, glistens in savoury sweet and sour sauce, prepared with a medley of yellow, red and green peppers. Kung Pao Chicken is one of the most popular Sichuan dishes in Toronto, but oh the difference that fresh ingredients make. Beware: the balance of sweet, sour, spicy and salty, and the confluence of textures from the peanuts, green onions and chili peppers and tender chicken is addictive. With each bite I say, “This is my last.” It is a feast for an emperor.
We cannot depart without spending a few moments at the photo wall of dignitaries and world leaders, including George H.W. Bush, shown enjoying the QJD experience in Beijing. To the first manager in 1864, Yang Quanren, we say, “Thanks.” “This is a very famous brand in China,” shares Toronto owner, Christina Chen, “And now I want to share it with Canada.”
QJD, 905-604-7798, 7095 Woodbine Avenue
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.