The descendants of ancient philosopher Confucius have been endeavoring to preserve and popularize the family's cuisine, as they believe his culinary thinking is largely ignored.
"Confucius was a great thinker and educator, but he was also undoubtedly a gourmet," said Kong Deban, a 77th-generation descendant of Confucius and resident of the city of Qufu -- Confucius's birthplace -- in east China's Shandong Province.
"Some of his ideas regarding food and diets have played a significant role in the forming and development of Chinese food culture," Kong said.
The family's cuisine was included as part of China's national intangible cultural heritage in June 2011.
Kong said the family's cuisine developed as a result of frequent visits by emperors, high-ranking officials and other distinguished guests to Confucius's home.
Many banquets, ceremonies and royal commemorations were held there, giving the family the opportunity to develop its own style of formal cuisine, he said.
"Confucius is often referred as a sage, but he was also an ordinary man. Seeing the simple way that common people prepared food, Confucius advocated raising one's cooking skills to cook food more meticulously in order to promote good health and digestion," Kong said.
Some of Confucius's views on food can be found in "The Analects," a collection of theories and sayings originating from Confucius and his students.
"Food can never be too good and cooking can never be done too carefully. Food cannot be eaten if the cutting is not even and properly done," according to "The Analects."
The names of the dishes are distinctive and tied to Confucius's philosophy and way of life. A dish known as "gingko poetry rites," originally called "honey gingko," was renamed by Yan Sheng, a 53rd-generation descendant of Confucius.
He renamed the dish after learning that the gingko nuts used to make it were picked from trees in front of the poetry hall in the Confucius Temple, choosing the name to commemorate the way Confucius taught his son Kong Li about poetry and virtue, Kong said.
"Each course in Confucius family cuisine has a special name with a profound meaning. The anecdotes and historical background behind the dish can turn any meal into a cultural experience," Kong added.
Peng Wenyu, a descendant of a Confucius Mansion chef and a 30-year veteran of Confucius-style cuisine, has written several works on the food's history and recipes.
"Cooking Confucius-style cuisine is complex, labor-intensive and demands great attention to detail," Peng said.H However, he said that the cuisine must adapt to modern times in order to remain relevant. Ingredients like shark fin and bear paw that are common in Confucius-style cuisine are banned for use in cooking food due to animal protection concerns.
"In ancient times, chefs at the Confucius Mansion handed down cooking skills and recipes only to their descendants or apprentices. But now I think we need to make it public so that it can be better preserved," Peng said.