When Candice Kumai’s parents refused to pay for culinary school ("They were like, You can cook for your friends, but not for a living."), the tall, slender Kumai turned to modeling to make ends meet. "Everybody was like, Are you the ‘stiletto chef’? Do you go and put your heels on after this?" she says. "It’s not like I pretentiously wanted to say yes, but I did." The name stuck, and so far she’s spun it into a successful food blog, a stint on the first season of Top Chef, and hosting gigs on TLC’s Home Made Simple, Lifetime’s Cook Yourself Thin, and guest spots on Cooking Channel’s Unique Eats. And if that wasn’t enough, Kumai has her first solo cookbook, Pretty Delicious, coming out in February. Between recipe testing, blog writing, commuting between Los Angeles and New York, and party planning, she says she barely has time to actually eat— but somehow she manages. She told us all about it in this week’s New York Diet.
Friday, January 14
I was in Los Angeles for the Tasty Awards the night before. I crawled out of bed at 6 a.m. to force myself to stay on New York time. Not in the best morning mood, as we’d gotten in from an after-party at 3 a.m. Chugged a liter of water and ordered a tray of English breakfast tea with soy milk and honey, and oatmeal with brown sugar and blueberries from room service at the Mondrian. Room service is so cliché, but I did not want to leave the room that day.
Somewhere around noon I crawled down to the pool to work on e-mails and try to burn off the night before. I don’t know how this happens, but there was some douchey guy wearing a Yankees cap, and I was like, "Are you from New York?" And he’s like, "Oh, no, I’m from Sydney." But the people next to him were like, "We’re from New York!" It was a gorgeous gay man that works on Wall Street and his lesbian bestie who came on a trip. I just sat there and talked to them, and we all wound up having lunch together. I got a grilled chicken BLT with a mesclun salad and a watermelon spritzer of sorts. I don’t know, it’s Hollywood. They try to bedazzle everything there.
I got hungry again for an early dinner, so I stopped off at my favorite Japanese market, Marukai, for a seaweed salad, soba-noodle soup with hot sauce, and green tea. I usually put copious amounts of hot sauce on it, and sometimes furikake. It’s like Japanese Mrs. Dash. It’s toasted sesame seeds, some nori, bonito or fish-infused flavors, but it’s really made out of dried fish. I know that sounds really gross, but it’s actually freakin’ delicious.
Went for a quick run to sweat out the night, chugged two cups of water. and snacked on Trader Joe’s chile lime cashew mix. I had to leave that night, so I packed like a mad woman. Before any flight I always pack up my dark-chocolate-covered almonds, a Fuji apple, and a boatload of Good Earth teas. I despise airport and airplane food like the plague. I took a flight home, then had a soda water and a few handfuls of chocolate almonds.
Saturday, January 15
When I wake up, I always chug a liter of water to hydrate and detox at the start of my day. I actually gave up coffee last summer. I think it was because my producers thought I had crazy ADD, and it helped, but it really was because it was starting to become a really dirty habit.
I met a business colleague of mine before a meeting, and we hopped on over to West 20th for a white-peach tea at Café Grumpy and half a bran muffin — super delicious — a treat from Blue Sky Bakery. Also keeps me full and movin’ — my fave!
I do my best to relax on Saturdays, so I threw in two loads of laundry at home and hopped over to Union Square to peep the new books out and get props at Fishs Eddy, then I ran into Republic for lunch. I highly recommend. I always get the lime chicken, which comes in a really clear broth, and they put onions and cilantro, lime — there’s peanuts in it, but I always say leave them off. I just don’t think they’re necessary. And a green papaya salad. Green papaya salad is my favorite thing ever.
Then ran to Trader Joe’s for the usual cart: arugula, spinach, kale, lemons, oats, almonds, chocolate almonds, eggs, canned tuna, almond milk, Parmesan cheese, fizzy orange and lime water, bananas, and Fuji apples.
Saturday night, I made my quick arugula-la salad with thinly sliced red onion, Fuji apples, and lemon vinaigrette. It’s lemon plus extra virgin olive oil plus sea salt. I chugged two glasses of fizzy water and met my favorite New York girlfriends out in the East Village. There’s something about the East Village that I can’t get over. I moved to the East Village when I first came here and fell in love. It’s so real, perfectly seasoned, and I love its grimy pockets with a character you can only find in New York. I met my friends for a big hug and a glass of Zinfandel at Rue B. We continued on to Heathers off East 13th. I got a wine there, from what I can remember, and nobody gets wine at Heathers. After the party in L.A., I did not want to look at booze.
Sunday, January 16
Woke up and started chugging my liter of water. I made my favorite breakfast: two cups of rolled oats cooked in a saucepan with water, no milk, plus one sliced banana, brown sugar, and dark-chocolate chips. I call it my "gone bananas" oatmeal. It makes me smile in the morning.
I had a handful of chocolate almonds and two more cups of water, then out the door to Bar Method. Bar Method is my favorite healthy habit. I call it “the center for hot asses.” It’s how I can grub and graze all day and still look like a TV host.
After Bar, hopped over to Ground Support, a perfect little café with Wi-Fi, chai-tea lattes, and grilled cheese. I ordered a soy chai-tea latte, water, and the baby arugula salad with radish, tomato, white beans, caciocavallo cheese, and my favorite salty olives, all for $11 or so. Rad.
I met my friend and business partner for dinner at Back Forty in the East Village. Holy moly, this place is my favorite. Started with the Vacqueyras from Rhone and a sparking water. I usually only go for the yucca fries with charred onion aïoli. Oh my fucking God, they are good enough to keep me single forever. Sundays they have “One Pot Sunday Suppers,” which I highly recommend. The pozole, which is a traditional Mexican slow-cooked stew made with hominy, slow-cooked pork, spicy peppers, and jalapeños, served with a side of tortilla strips and a squeeze of lime, is pretty much heaven on a plate. The Sunday-night menu changes monthly, so you have two more weeks to test the pozole. I also ordered roasted Brussels sprouts with dried cherry butter and shallot cream — it’s perfect when you toss it all together and let the butter and cream marry.
Monday, January 17
I downed my liter of water, and used my Breville to juice up what I call my "chocomilk." It’s about six to eight organic carrots, a head of organic red leaf romaine, one teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa powder, and one-quarter teaspoon of Stevia. It’s so bloody good I had two big old glasses, and then made my "gone bananas" oatmeal again. It’s a habit.
I had to hop over to Whole Foods on Bowery to work on my pull sheet for the cooking class I teach. While I was there I picked up lunch: a macrobiotic salad, kale salad, quinoa, and dark-chocolate bites, and downed another liter of water.
Ran back to my place, as I forgot to mail my parents my prereleased book! I got emotional writing to them and it must have sparked a craving: I nibbled on a Pure Dark “bark” bar, which has cherries, roasted almonds, cacao nibs, and, dude, the sea salt is what makes it so, so good. More business colleagues came by and I needed a pick-me-up, so one of the girls brought me a large chai-tea latte over from Ost Café.
Dinner was at Lodge in Williamsburg that night, which was a trek in the snow for a Cali girl. I had a blueberry lemonade and a water, and I started with the pear and walnut salad with arugula, herbed goat cheese, and a perfect mustard balsamic. For my main, I had a grilled whole trout with, garlic, lemon, and rosemary. I loved this, because it reminds me of how my parents used to cook fish straight-up on the grill after fishing trips. So bloody good. Got a full side of sweet-potato fries with that. If I work out hard, then I eat hard. That’s my rule.
Tuesday, January 18
Drank my water and made a carrot juice with my red leaf lettuce, yada yada yada. Began to write my weekly blog for StilettoChef.com, on slow foods this week. I was truly inspired by the “One Pot Sunday Suppers” at Back Forty on Sunday night. Made me think about the endless amounts of overprocessed, prepackaged crap we have in this country. My bottom line is, you have a choice, so choose wisely. Eat wise and don’t be a moron with food.
I had brunch with a friend at Soy café — a.k.a. the “Soy Luck Club." I ordered a dirty chai tea with chocolate, because it sounded so naughty, a soy yogurt, and a really good flax-seed wrap with smoked salmon, basil, tomato, and soy cream cheese. That was a nice, clean meal.
I ran back home to have my weekly meeting with my culinary team. I was testing a quinoa salad with Fuji apples, cranberries, walnuts, and organic spinach, dressed in a honey-balsamic vinaigrette. Then I went on to write a miso-glazed salmon, ,and soba-noodle soup, inspired by my Mom.
For dinner, I drank two more cups of water, and then ran out the door for dinner at Kin Shop, which was packed to the brim with all kinds of characters. I was very excited to see my friend Harold Dieterle, who, you may remember, won our season of Top Chef five years ago. We ordered some Prosecco and started with the pumpkin and bibb salad, with Asian pear-peppercorn vinaigrette. Second up was the hand-cut beef tartare, which was a great play on textures with the crispy rice crackers, the quail egg you ooze out on top of the beef, raw tamago on warm rice with shoyu … so decadent. Harold recommended the red and the green curries. The red was roasted duck breast, which you wrap up in crispy roti and eat it like a taco or a pita. The green was steamed red snapper. I am not usually a huge fan of red snapper, but this was steamed perfectly over cashews, bok choy, and my absolute favorite, kabocha squash. It was a perfect finish to a long day. Thanks, Harold.
Wednesday, January 19
Woke up early, chugged the water, and went for an icy four-and-a-half-mile run. I got so hungry on the way back that I stopped at Whole Foods to grab a few essentials to make breakfast: soy yogurt, bananas, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, oatmeal, brown sugar, kale, carrots, and red leaf lettuce for juicing.
Headed out to a quick meeting before the shoot and grabbed a chai soy latte at Ost Café, my favorite place to work and chill all week. Ran back to the other side of town for a shoot. Honestly, our job is to constantly be on, whether it’s for writing, PR, TV, meetings, and it sounds super cliché, but there’s just no time for lunch sometimes. I splurged on a really big heart-shaped raspberry and chocolate linzertorte. I’m not a health nut — I just eat real foods and rarely eat what I know will kill my waist. The rare case: linzertorte with rich, melt-in-your-mouth-butter and dark chocolate was a truly scrumptious, enjoyable treat.
A simple night in was all that I needed for dinner. Some of my own good eats. I had soba noodles with spinach, edamame, and the miso-glazed salmon I had made earlier, and a huge glass of water. Leftovers at home are a dream to me.