Talking with Candice Kumai
- Written By:Elyse Moody
- Photography:Courtesy of Harper Wave
Chef, television host, and author Candice Kumai has something she’d like us all to know: It’s OK not to be perfect. Candice has amassed quite a following since she made her name as the youngest chef on Season One of Top Chef, appearing on Iron Chef America and writing five books, including the best-selling Clean Green series. But to write her sixth, Kintsugi Wellness, she did something a little different: She traveled to Japan, where she nursed her broken heart, foggy mind, and tired body with homemade meals and lessons in kintsugi, a traditional art that repairs broken pottery with seams of gold, so that the mended product is even more beautiful than it was before. “Kintsugi,” she writes of her eureka moment, watching a master craftsman work, “is the self-care we all need and deserve.” While on a book-tour break in Italy, Candice checked in to talk about finding strength in her Japanese heritage, and her favorite cookies.
When I was on Top Chef, I was only 23 years old and in culinary school. That was the life changer for me. Nobody had a clue what the show was, or if it would last. It wasn’t sustainable, though, and I had to work very, very hard to keep success coming my way. My first big book break, Cook Yourself Thin, happened when I was 26, and from there my writing career began.
Eat like Grandma did. All things fresh and real, mostly plants. I eat primarily vegan and vegetarian, but being Japanese I couldn’t give up my sushi. When celebrating with friends and family, or traveling, I say: Eat what you want! Try everything your heart desires.
My vegan banana matcha chocolate chip cookies. I think everyone can agree.
My Japanese mother and Japanese heritage. We focus with the word kaizen, which translates as “continuously improving.” She’s still not easy on me, but she’s real and fair, and she’s always watching over me with tough love. I also have to compete with men in much of my work in culinary and wellness, and I utilize my feminine strengths to show and never tell that ladies can also be successful and lead strong wellness and culinary careers.
I lift weights at my barre classes six days a week. I practice yoga on the regular, and core power and yoga sculpt. When traveling, I run four to five miles a day. I’m disciplined in my workout routine because it makes me feel incredible, mentally. It is my medicine.
BEAUTY FROM THE INSIDE OUT:
Practice more kindness, and be more mindful of others. If you are able to help someone, help. (Dad taught me that.) Clock quality sleep. Meditate more. Do yoga. Sweat. Cook for yourself and others every week.
I’ve been trying to cut down on makeup lately. I’ve got rosacea, and I used to have breakouts, like everyone else. I have had to change my diet to keep my skin glowing. I love dewy cheeks, natural lashes, lip gloss, and natural, glowy skin.
Mom and Dad, forever and always. The people of Japan, who taught me to be a better person and that my job has only just begun. The monks of Japan, and their ability to devote their lives to praying for others. When I wrote Kintsugi Wellness, I studied with monks in Kōyasan and on Shikoku Island. Their cuisine, Shojin Ryori, which is traditionally no meat, their lifestyle, and their discipline inspired me to practice more prayer for others and to improve my quality of work for others.
Acceptance. Allowing and letting go is some of the most graceful work we can do in this lifetime.
CURRENTLY WORKING ON:
My new podcast, Wabi Sabi, which has been incredibly successful! We hit number 13 overall in Health and number 196 in all pods our first week. It has also been really humbling to find out how many people appreciate real, solid content. I’m discussing deeper ideas, like my body issues, being a mixed kid, depression, how to make it with no money, how to overcome setbacks—all through a Japanese lens. It’s a self-funded podcast I chose to start based on Kintsugi Wellness, which is by far the most meaningful book I’ve written to date. I launched the podcast because I wanted to share the messages in it, and after feeling like it was time to reveal my perfectly imperfect life to all.
I’d like to help others as much as I can, and teach them more about empathy, grace, humility, and how true wellness stems from endurance (gaman in Japanese). I indeed still have so much to learn and so many dreams I’d like to see come to pass.