Candice Kumai is the best-selling author of seven books, an award-winning journalist, and classically trained chef. Her latest book, Spirited, is her most personal yet. In it, Candice (who, despite appearing to “have it all” as a wellness icon) reveals how her anxiety and competitiveness were taking an incredible toll—and how returning to the Buddhist principles she learned as a child transformed her life. Here, she shares the rituals that bring her meaning and joy, from her morning matcha to brunch with friends.
What is the first thing you do in the morning?
I usually snuggle with my new kitty, Sho. He is a rescue from a bodega in the Bronx, from Little Wanderers. They have rescued thousands of cats in New York. Every day I look at him and my partner Sean in the morning here in Brooklyn, I’m amazed at the joys of what God has brought into my life. Even on my worst days, I write down that I am so grateful to have my cat and my man. I continue to help cats and dogs in need through my rescue efforts daily.
How have your upbringing and environment shaped your understanding of wellness?
Japan and traveling to my motherland has had the greatest impact on my wellness journey. My mother is from Beppu, a small harbor-country town in southern Japan, on Kyushu Island. It’s known as the California of Japan. My family and cousins are in Tokyo and Beppu. The monks I study with are in Shikoku Island and Koyasan, in the mountains close to Osaka. And my ancestors are buried in southern Japan. Frequent visits to each of these gems over 30 years has been a great resource for me, mostly when I feel rejected, lost, depressed, and anxious — back in the Western world. It can be easy to feel unappreciated, overlooked, underpaid in wellness these days, so you will see me going back to writing cookbooks, never forgetting where I started. My best spot for writing is Brooklyn, my home. And my mom and dad are my best advisors in Carlsbad, California. My sister in London and my partner takes me to some gems like Cortes Island in British Columbia or his hometown in Bainbridge, Washington, where I can just be myself and come as I am.
What makes you feel your best?
Sleep, man. A long, 9-hour night of sleep. Flowers, catching morning dew on flowers. Rescuing cats. Wrapping up a day of volunteering for the hungry. Seeing my parents laugh. Secretly watching my dad answer every question on Jeopardy!. Surfing; I miss it terribly. Snuggling with a good book, great sheets, and my sweet cat Sho. Matcha Love in the morning. The calmness of knowing — knowing everything is going to be okay.
What has been the hardest part of your wellness journey—and how do you face it?
Oof, where to begin here? And what a telling (grey, cloudy) day to write out the answer to this. Letting go of the people, ideas, and places I thought I’d be by now. Feeling like my seven books don’t really matter because the climate looks at shiny social media and clickbait. Being a professional writer, chef, and journalist in the middle of a time when experts don’t seem to matter anymore. And running, funding, hustling, growing, and promoting every damn thing on my own for almost 20 years. It’s worth it if I can save or change just one life, though.
What is something you would like to see more of in the wellness world?
Compassion. Empathy. Love and kindness. Gratitude and generosity. Respect and merit. Ethos. Integrity. Appreciation of culture. An admiration for those who came before and for those who have passed who made a great impact in wellness. An understanding that not every artist or contributor is loud, or on social media. I’d like to think Mother Teresa was the greatest influence and had not one care for the camera, but rather, helping to serve.
What is a ‘must-have’ step or product in your routine?
Brunch on a Saturday with your besties in Brooklyn. Depending on the day, a perfect cava or Champagne or tequila. I love supporting my girlfriend Rita and her partner Will at Ama Raw Bar.
Letting go of the wellness bullshit out there and tapping into culture and books.
How do you define ‘healthy’?
Someone who practices what they preach and doesn’t look for anything in return.
What is something you look forward to every day?
Catching the golden sunlight against New York City’s building’s reflected back at me. And catching the sunset over the water— wherever I am, I am there. And a good laugh with Mom—she’s hilarious and really doesn’t know it. (Or maybe she does? Can’t tell.)
How do you reset yourself after a difficult moment?
In my 20’s I drank and partied.
In my 30’s I worked out like a maniac and ran from them by traveling all over the world.
In my 40’s I’ve forced myself to sit and face my own demons, problems, and shit — meditating, writing and sometimes just crying out my own healing alone with my tears. And by learning the Buddhist way of letting go of all attachment and ideas not meant for me.
What is a ritual that brings you joy?
Cutting an edit tape and completing the edit (aka a video), completing a new book. I love long-term, beautiful, and useful//thoughtful work.
What is the last thing you do at night?
I turn off my salt lamp, I say a prayer for others, and I list three things I’m grateful for. I put on my silk sleeping mask, get really really cozy with my Brooklinen sheets and pillows, and thank God for all that I have. My cup is full. And I do it all over again the next day.