Candice Kumai On Japanese Wellness, Cocktails, And How Matcha Can Change The World

Candice Kumai has transformed herself from trained chef to bestselling author, and ultimately, into the wellness industry’s “it girl.” She is currently partnered with Belvedere Vodka to create health-conscious recipes for their new Ginger Zest enhanced vodka and she was named one of Arianna Huffington’s “Top 20 New Role Models in 2017.” Her latest book celebrates how she did it all.

Candice KumaiPhoto Credit: Courtesy of Candice Kumai
Candice started modeling when she was 15, living in Southern California. After college, she enrolled in culinary school and wound up in the kitchen at several of California best restaurants, including the Ritz Carlton Laguna BeachShe paid her way through school on her own (“still am paying my loans!”) by modeling.

“I became this pro at fit modeling for every bikini brand known to man: VS FitnessRoxy, Quiksilver women, Hurley, O’Neil, Vans, Op, Calvin Klein Swim, Betsey Johnson Swim, Rampage Swim, W Swim, Nautica Swim, Becca, Speedo. I really can’t remember them all, there are a lot!”

Her fit modeling work transitioned into wellness and the books started and kept on coming. Her most recent release, Kintsugi Wellness: The Japanese Art of Nourishing Mind, Body, and Spirit, focuses on the Japanese traditions and practices that helped her embrace a more complete life of wellness and “radiant health.”

IMG_2520Photo Credit: Fabiana Santana

“This book shows us where wellness truly is meaningful and where it got started. I write from my ancestor’s stories, from my family and from the elderly in Japan…their tools are sharp and common sense.” The book is heavily grounded in her own family’s history, specifically Baachan, her grandmother, and mother. “My mother always says, ‘life cannot be perfect forever,’ she writes. “My mom’s attitude toward imperfection is rooted in the Japanese idea of wabi-sabi. It celebrates life’s imperfections, its tough stretches, even its dark corners.” The way to get through it all, says Candice, is to treat yourself right. That’s done by trading judgement for acceptance, simplifying life and taking action by eating fresh foods and getting yourself moving. The Japanese have some of the longest lifespan in the world. Part of that is because of their daily dedication to incorporating movement, eating fresh foods at every meal and drinking matcha – an ancient Japanese green tea.

“Matcha. Its been my lifeline in my career. I wrote five books off the stuff… and on the stuff…” She credits her switch from coffee to matcha to her elevated energy levels, clearer skin and overall health and wellness.

Candice is the youngest female advisor to sit on the board at the largest matcha and green tea purveyor in the world for the past five plus years, so she’s serious about the stuff. “I’ve traveled all over the nation: LA, Honolulu, Miami, NY, San Diego, San Fran, just to speak on matcha alone, for the past six years.”

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 15: Candice Kumai attends as Belvedere Vodka celebrates newest expression Ginger Zest with Candice Kumai at NoMo SoHo on May 15, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Belvedere Vodka)

Photo Credit: Getty Images for Belvedere Vodka

Matcha aside, it’s no secret to anyone who meets Candice that her Japanese heritage is important. She beams with pride at how much she has grown by embracing her family’s culture. But it isn’t the only thing that defines her.  “I am also Polish!” she boasts. Her recent partnership with Belvedere Vodka – to celebrate the release of their new Ginger Zest expression – was a way for her to celebrate that side of her ancestry. “I loved creating recipes to pair with Ginger Zest cocktails. Belvedere is proudly Polish, and so am I. The cocktails, paired with my food… it was like a family reunion.”

While she doesnt make a habit out of drinking a lot, she does do so in moderation and chooses natural, clean spirits, like Belvedere Ginger Zest, that are big on flavor but leave out artificial sugars and sweeteners. “ I love a Ginger Zest spritz because I favor light, easy to drink cocktails that aren’t sweet or strong. If you want something sweet, add some pineapple. Chefs love pineapple!” The Blackberry Collins – made with Ginger Zest, lime juice, fresh blackberries and mint –  is also a favorite. “I believe that Ginger Zest is the new “it” flavor for the summer! My girlfriends love these Belvedere Ginger Zest flavors!”

What are her other secrets for a life well lived? We asked and here’s what she said.

You’ve written several books, but this one is the first that focuses on Japanese wellness, which is part of your heritage. What did you want to write this book?

People always associate Japanese culture with wellness because they immediately assume they are living long, so they must be doing something right. We like to say that following ancient traditions along with welcoming new cultures is the way to life. Practicing the old with the new. The philosophies of Japanese life the guiding force of the book and I wanted to share them all.

You’ve said that it took you thirty-plus years to write Kintsugi Wellness Why?

It seems like most people don’t understand that the Japanese are very humble and what they are looking for is to share our heritage and background with everyone else. I am a Japanese American and it took a Japanese American to share with the world. No other people were that interested until a Japanese American girl saw what the culture and tradition  did for her life. It changed my whole life. Looking at the perspective of heritage and wellness and what that all means together, my mind was blown. Everyone’s mind was blown. With Ginger zest and Belvedere, I actually get to bring in the other side of my family, my Polish side, to share both cultures with everyone.

How often do you indulge in a cocktail?

I say that celebratory is the way to go with drinks for sure. Drink a nice drink. Something clean and low in sugar.

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 15: Belvedere Ginger Zest branding and bottles are seen as Belvedere Vodka celebrates newest expression Ginger Zest with Candice Kumai at NoMo SoHo on May 15, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Belvedere Vodka)

Photo Credit: Getty Images for Belvedere VodkaWhat is the one iconic Japanese thing you do every day?

In the morning, I make matcha tea in my chawan  – a traditional Japanese matcha bowl – with a bamboo whisk. I drink matcha every day. I haven’t had coffee in years.

How can someone start to simply transition into healthier lifestyle focused on wellness?

It’s a matter of finding balance in everything we do. If we look to our heritage we can answer a lot of questions. If we eat real we can answer a lot of questions. It’s all basic common sense. Get rest, exercise, drink a lot of water, and also make sure you are taking good care of yourself before you are taking care of something else.

What are some of your most productive beauty tips?

Drink matcha! Ditch coffee and make the switch! Also, incorporating healthy herbs and beauty foods like ginger into your life. Clock in as much sleep as you can each night, stay away from people who stress you out, remove all of your makeup at night (I use olive oil or coconut oil), and really just find ways to simplify your life.

You’ve created an amazing green juice cleanse and even wrote a book about green juice. How often do you cleanse?

I did it right before this event. The recipes totally work! I only did about one week of cleansing – the plan is usually for two. So unfortunately that meant no matcha cookies, no sugars, no processed foods and I just cut down on it week by week, or in this case, day by day. So yesterday was the cleanest of all days. And today it’s time to grab a sip and celebrate. We have to learn to enjoy ourselves, too! 

Keep up with Candice, the ‘it’ girl of wellness, via her Instagram and be sure to check out her highly anticipated podcast set to launch this June!