Author returns to local roots, promotes new book on Japanese culture


When Candice Kumai spoke recently at The Grauer School in Encinitas, the event marked a homecoming for the author, TV personality, entrepreneur and chef.

Kumai spoke about her sixth and latest book, "Kintsugi Wellness," which was published by Harper Wave in April. Among the audience was Kumai's mother and mentor, Miho Gwiazdowski, who has taught Japanese language and culture at The Grauer School for the past 19 years.

"She is my life's greatest inspiration, in a landslide," said Kumai, introducing her mother.

Kumai grew up in Carlsbad with her Japanese-American mother, Polish-American father and her sister, Jenni, who owns and runs a bicycle shop in London. Although Kumai now lives in Brooklyn, New York, she visits her hometown when she can, and along with spending time with her family, indulges her lifelong passion for surfing.

Kumai said her new book draws upon her Japanese heritage - its subtitle is "The Japanese Art of Nourishing Mind, Body and Spirit" - and is named for a specific art form, kintsugi, which entails taking broken pottery or fabric and mending it using gold powder to decorate the cracks or tears. The end result, she said, is an object that is considered more beautiful than the original.

The Japanese art form is intended to be a metaphor for our own lives, she said, and our ability to piece together broken parts, whether they are physical or emotional.

"Golden repair celebrates our imperfections. It teaches us that we are more beautiful for our flaws, our battle scars, our lessons learned," Kumai wrote in the introduction to her book, which has four sections: Strengthen, Nourish, Lifestyle and Heart.

Throughout the book, Kumai has sprinkled Japanese concepts, such as wabi sabi, which means finding beauty in imperfection and prizing authenticity; kansha, cultivating gratitude; ganbatte, doing your best; and eiyoshoku, nourishing your body.

The book includes dozens of recipes for healthy, Japanese-inspired cuisine. During her talk, she demonstrated one of her favorites, a smoothie with spinach, bananas, unsweetened almond milk and a hint of matcha, or powdered Japanese green tea.

A number of Kumai's books have focused on healthful eating, including "Clean Green Eats," "Clean Green Drinks" and "Cook Yourself Sexy."

Kumai, who trained as a chef at Le Cordon Bleu California School of Culinary Arts, said her personal "food philosophy" centers on fresh ingredients. "Fruits and vegetables are the star," she said, and she also relies on such ingredients as sesame oil and miso. "It's always been about eating real food," she said.

In preparation for writing her book, she said, she made numerous trips to Japan, where she immersed herself in the country's history and traditions, cooked and tasted its cuisine, and visited with members of her extended family. She even visited the home studio of a kintsugi master, to watch him at work.

Those experiences, she wrote, prepared her to write about Japanese culture in a way she hadn't done before.

Along with the books she has authored, Kumai is a contributor to such lifestyle outlets as Cosmopolitan, Yoga Journal, Elle, Shape and Bon Appétit, and is a former judge on the TV shows Iron Chef America and Beat Bobby Flay. She also is a regular on the Dr. Oz show, E! News and the Today show.

She also hosts a podcast, Wabi Sabi, which is available on I-Tunes and other outlets.

Stuart Grauer, founder and head of school at The Grauer School, said he has followed Kumai's career through her mother, who has brought him copies of each new book her daughter has published. Kumai's talk on Nov. 28 marked her first speaking engagement at the school.

He said the concepts espoused by Kumai, such as wabi sabi, or celebrating imperfection, dovetail nicely with the school's core values.

"Students are not widgets. Their imperfections are their beauty," Grauer said. "We've created a school that honors that concept."

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