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Be a Better Cook

Candice Kumai’s Pretty Delicious World

With a click of her heels, "Stiletto Chef" — and fashion industry vet — Candice Kumai turns healthy eating into something simple and stylish, not to mention budget-friendly.

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Clean Eating: What does clean eating mean to you?

Candice Kumai: Clean eating is nothing new, it’s going back to the way grandma used to eat. It’s about eating real foods again, sticking to basic ingredients that we are all familiar with and it’s about getting better quality and better nutrients back into your diet. Basically, taking control of your diet.

CE: What sets Pretty Delicious apart from other healthy eating books?

CK: It’s not about dieting; it’s not about deprivation. It’s simply about eating real food again, being more aware of what you are putting into your body. It’s also highly stylized. I worked in the fashion industry for about 10 years before I went into food and I was the body everyone was putting clothes on, so no wonder I was so adamant about style at all times. We wanted the book to be as realistic as possible; we worked hard at creating our aesthetic, so that you could see what is truly attainable for the average person.

CE: Whether you are organizing a casual family dinner or a more formal dinner party, how do you incorporate your distinct personal style?

CK: Entertaining is not about being pretentious, but it is about the details. It could be as simple as plating your meal with fresh flowers. I think the more you cook, the more you learn about tiny little tricks. All it takes is a heart-shaped cookie cutter to make little sandwiches or, if you’re making sliders, you might use a round cookie cutter or a toothpick with some décor on it to make it look fabulous. When it comes to plating your meal, use martini glasses to serve a butternut squash soup. Whenever I make crab cakes, I like serving them on little seashells. You don’t need to be fancy and gourmet by buying really super-expensive products – it can be very simple. Using craft paper under your place settings and tying your silverware with raffia is a simple, yet elegant, way to add a little extra stylish touch.

CE: Do you have any tips for maintaining a healthy lifestyle when you have such a hectic schedule?

CK: Balancing my diet and exercise is the hardest part of my life. If I’m not going to have time to exercise, I will make every attempt to eat extremely well, and at the end of the day, I’ll make time to stretch and do some yoga. If I’m traveling on an airplane, I make sure to pack apples, salads and my own snacks and fill up on a lot of mineral water. I drink a ton of water and hydrate all day long. I think part of staying healthy is to have a clear mind and to stay positive all the time because anything can happen, life is crazy. Being healthy is a reflection of who you are and you have to create that balanced life; it’s about the effort you are going to put forth to stay healthy. Nobody is magically going to wave a wand and make you healthy – you have to put forth the effort.

CE: What are some kitchen tools and gadgets that can add a touch of glam to your kitchen and your meal?

CK: There’s one in particular – the rasp is my favorite of all. It gives you gorgeous snow-like Parmesan on any pasta dish. It also cuts calories because it grates it so fine, you have just enough flavor to last one serving and you don’t need gobs of it. It also saves you money. A lot of times, if I’m making a cake, I like to zest oranges or lemon over top and it’s healthier than sprinkles. You can even use lime on top of blueberry-lime cupcakes.

CE: How do you like to use Greek yogurt?

CK: I like grilled peaches with brown sugar and a scoop of Greek yogurt on top – it’s kind of like peaches and cream. And then you can add some toasted walnuts to.

CE: You talk about your belief in the farm-to-table approach to cooking. How can our readers find ingredients close to the source, regardless of whether they live in the city or the country?

CK: You can almost always find a farmer’s market in your area. It’s the best organic food. You can buy produce, grass-fed meats and many other goods. If they have space in their kitchens, I always encourage people to grow indoor herbs in little pots. If you can subscribe to a CSA (community supported agriculture) box, it’s a great thing because it gets delivered right to your house and you can always check online to see where they deliver. I recently signed to be the new spokesperson for Giving Through Growing – we are trying to promote people getting into their backyards and gardening.