According to the book, a woman from a tribe called Youxin was picking mulberry leaves and found a baby in a withered tree. She dedicated the baby to the chief of Youxin. The chief asked his chef to raise the baby and ordered him to find out what had happened. The chief was then told that the mother of the baby lived upstream of the River Yi. One day when she was pregnant, she dreamed of the god telling her: “If you see water out of the stone mortar, you must run east and don’t look back.” The next day she saw the water came out of the mortar. She told her neighbours and ran east for 10 kilometres, then she looked back and saw her village was flooded. Her body, as a result, was transformed into a shrivelled mulberry tree. Therefore, the baby was given the name Yi Yin by the chief.
He grew up known as a wise man. The chief of another tribe Tang, who was the founder of the Shang dynasty, heard of it and sent an envoy to Youxin inviting him to his court. But the chief of Youxin rejected. Yi Yin also wanted to join Tang as he had an ambitious plan. So Tang asked to marry the daughter of the Youxin chief. The latter was delighted and let Yi Yin to escort his daughter to Tang’s tribe. According to the history book, Yi Yin assisted Tang winning the war with Xia and establishing the Shang Dynasty. To pay his respect, Tang made him the prime minister.
Then, how was Yi Yin called the culinary god? Well, let’s continue the story.
After Tang had Yi Yin, he held a ceremony and received him formally. Yi Yin started his talk with the technique and process of cooking and seasoning, then described all kinds of delicious foods from different places in China. Tang asked Yi Yin whether they could be made now. Yi Yin said no because his state is too small to have all these foods. Only when Tang became the emperor - the Son of Heaven, he was able to enjoy them. To become the Son of Heaven, he must know Tao (the ultimate principle of the universe).
“The Lu’s Annals” recorded the following talk of Yi Yin about food and cooking, which established his position as a culinary god:
“For the fundamental of the savour water comes first. Five flavours (sour, sweet, bitter, spicy and salty) and three materials (water, fire and wood) are boiled nine times and transformed nine times. Mastering fire is the key, sometimes with high heat and sometimes with gentle heat to dispel fishy, foul and muttony odours. The smelly food will turn out to be delicious only when the fire can be skillfully handled. For seasoning the five flavours must be used, but the usage of sequence and quantity, and their combination has a tricky effect on savour. The change in the cauldron is subtle and can only be sensed but not explained, like shooting arrows on a running horse, transforming between yin and yang, and the alternation of the four seasons. The highest level of cooking is that the food will be still firm even cooked long time, done but not mushy, sweet but not overly, sour but not too strong, salty but not heavy, piquant but not overpowering, delicate but still full of flavour, and fatty but not greasy.”
It was said also that Yi Yin had written the first cook book in China but unfortunately it was lost. Nevertheless his cooking theory was widely spread and has influenced the Chinese cooking ever since.