Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with golden lacquer, transforming it into a new and beautiful work of art in its own right.
If you ask chef, model, and entrepreneur Candice Kumai, the technique can also be applied to real life. She’s had her own share of struggles, but she’s made a life for herself built on those imperfections. Kintsugi Wellness, her latest of six books, explores this very idea—and it makes Candice the wonderfully relatable influencer we know and love.
Below, Candice talks about her book, her podcast Wabi Sabi, her love of matcha, and why Elle calls her the “Golden Girl of Wellness.”
You were raised by hard-working immigrant parents. How has their dedication affected your career story?
When I think of success, I think of Mom + Dad: they’re the only reason why I work so hard. Watching them as a child, they showed me what hard work was — in Japanese we call this “Oyano se wo mite ko wa sodatsu.” Translates to— children watch what their parents do, not by what they say.
In a world where likes and follower counts are so coveted, how do you stay authentic and true to yourself/your brand?
Oh man, this has been a gnarly challenge to be honest.
I started out as a poor-broke-ass writer who moved to Brooklyn at 26– with $200 and a suitcase— who lived next to the projects and could barely make rent ...
Prior to that I paid for culinary school on my own at 22-23 by modeling and fit modeling in LA, NY and Asia. Mom told me to my face, I’d never make it cooking for other people.
I’ve been broke AF and I’ve made major cash money. I’ve been someone’s assistant chef and line cook mopping floors and doing dishes and I’ve also been a judge on Iron Chef and opened Nasdaq and closed the New York Stock Exchange with the New York Times, twice.
Life threw me every curve ball you could ever imagine — people tied my hands behind my back, blindfolded me and set me on fire — miraculously with Japanese practice (Gaman/great resilience) I always made it out alive and made pioneering look easy; and I didn’t always hit home runs, but when I did— I had to note how hard I worked to get there.
That’s the long answer, the short answer is —humility.
Nobody handed me sh*t, I paved my own path solo..worked every job as a writer/tv host/ for very little and most of my work for a decade was for no pay. It was about building a real brand that would last, from scratch.
All the boys in food (you know; those tatted up chefs all over the nation) and some top execs in media never thought I’d make it and now, they come to me to seek advice/inspo/content and ask— “how do you do it all”?
Humility —every time I fell on my face and humility for every day as an entrepreneur— self funded, self propelled and self made. That’s it.
Being an entrepreneur continues to be a challenge: Pioneerin’ ain’t easy, but it’s the only thing I’m wired to do —create the new.
And f—- follower counts —what do you have to offer when the battery dies?
What’s been the biggest surprise or highlight of your career to date?
Wow. So many! Too many to count but I can name a few:
When mom told me my first solo cookbook, Pretty Delicious at 26 years old was “better than she thought it was going to be.”
When Chanel, Origins, Cover Girl, Shiseido, Sephora, Bosica etc. all signed me for beauty campaigns —over a 8 year span, all over the globe—I never thought a girl who cooked and wrote would become a mogul for beauty
When my agents at WME IMG made a decision to sign/rep me globally in Japan/Tokyo/Asia
Gracing the back of a Kashi Cereal Box - Werd up.
The 500+ 5 star reviews on my podcast, Wabi Sabi and the 200k downloads within a few months of its inception — who knew my stories of struggle and tenacity were so relatable? It made me smile with humility.
When my mom’s school principal (where she teaches) asked me to come speak with Mom—to the kids and their parents—and share how a small San Diego hometown Japanese- American surfer girl could “make it” big as a writer/author in NYC.
Being interviewed by Forbes & The Wall Street Journal, Arianna Huffington, Vogue & Oprah Mag all in one year—major surprise.
Whose career really inspires you?
Mom - Japanese Cultural Teacher
Dad- Nuclear Auditor and US Navy Veteran, drafted at 21
Sis - Entrepreneur in London, founder and director of The London Bike Kitchen-killin it overseas sis!
Grandpa- Impressionist painter in Tokyo
Aunt Kyoko - has a permanent collection at the MoMa
Anyone who’s out there trailblazing -I truly commend you.
You’re super open about your past struggles in business and finance. What’s the driving force behind this vulnerability?
Simply being honest and real — there are too many fakes and wannabes out there & this is the way I’m wired.
I gotta tell the truth and keep it real. My work is honorable to my legacy- it does me and none of you any good if I fake sh*t. Truth and honor are part of my legacy, that’s the Japanese and Polish American way—be honest and always give your best. This is what my family taught me. I’m not out here bustin’ my ass to be fake, I have no desire to be famous- I’m out there on the field everyday (writing, producing, directing) to help people. I can only help people when I’m vulnerable, myself and masks are all off.
When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you find new roads + switch gears to find success?
Oh man—shift down or shift up. Take breaks—TRAVEL SOLO. Spend time alone—learn to love your solidarity. Write. Stop depending on others and outside factors for happiness. Be original and find new and fresh inspiration. Listen to Drake, Lil Wayne and ASAP Rocky. Go hiking/forest bathing. Stay away from people who don’t make you feel good. Get a pet or hang with animals. Volunteer at a space where you can help those in need: a shelter, a food bank, a soup kitchen, an animal shelter, the Salvation Army, donate and connect w those less fortunate than you. Hop to the beach and learn how to surf, swim or stand up paddle. Success is immeasurable — stop looking around and look within— f—- what everyone else is doing. Pray for others. Practice gratitude and tell those you love, you love them. xx
You’ve run your business for over 10 years now: What are the common challenges you've seen among female business owners and entrepreneurs?
Staying on top of email marketing and the changing social landscape.
Finances - tough to balance, & payroll/admin: hard to keep inspired by that lol
It’s tough to get investors when you’re a creative artist
I really don’t want to be on social all day—it kills creativity
It was once very hard for execs and tv execs to take me serious & I wasn’t going to change who I was to fit into their basic mold
I have so many creative ideas- it’s hard to keep up with my ideas and my love of the new!
Struggling to keep the arts profound and inspiring while having to run a business and deal with admin/finance
What does a normal day in the life of Candice Kumai look like?
Wake up, make matcha
Write or create content in some format
Work out at barre, yoga, surf or run depending on where I’m at
Conf calls, meetings or shoot
Finish all work tasks and emails
Cook, enjoy some kind of view or company of another/friends
Drink a ton of water
Review video cuts or images or content
Manage finances/accounts and payments to team
Eat chocolate, laugh w some homies or go listen to ASAP Mob etc
Read something profound/reflect/pray
Sleep really really good
What are you most excited for in 2019?
- Tokyo 2020 prep
- Shooting/directing/writing/producing a NHK World Series in Japan
Setting up shop in SF and NY and Tokyo the trifecta year
NEW CONTENT I CREATE⚡️
Making my clients in LA, NY, SF, Japan all happy
Possibly writing a new paperback book
Creating a new form of media and journalism with the launch of my new company: Kirei Media Inc
Wabi Sabi Podcast: to take off into outer space lol-I just want more girls to fall in love w it.
I just wanna laugh more, spend time with those I love, eat cookies, cook more, find a home soon, create better content, sleep like a goddess and be a better journalist, financially kill it & keep being weird. That’s it. xxx ck