Food-Drink

Candice Kumai Dishes on How to 'Cook Yourself Sexy'

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 (Courtesy of Candice Kumai)

Is it possible to savor mouthwatering, creamy, tantalizing dishes without packing on the pounds? According to one former model-turned-chef, the answer is yes — all you have to do is revamp what’s inside your fridge.

Candice Kumai’s "Cook Yourself Sexy" is a collection of over 100 recipes that cuts the calories without sacrificing taste. And when we discovered you can enjoy gooey mac and cheese, "guilt-free burgers" and fresh-from-the-oven dark chocolate brownies, we had to ask: How healthy are they really? According to Kumai, a contributing editor at Shape magazine and regular judge on Food Network’s "Iron Chef America," the secret to making your favorite meals healthier is using fresh fruits, veggies, as well as pure, clean ingredients.

We chatted with Kumai about her "Cook Yourself Sexy" meal plan, the foods you need right now, and how you can have your cocktail (and drink it, too):

FNM: What is the "Cook Yourself Sexy" diet?

CK: No diets here. It’s about being clean and real. It’s about enjoying your food again, going back to basics, cooking the way our grandmothers once did, and utilizing the power of nutrition through real food. "Cook Yourself Sexy" says it all. I have always advocated eating clean, unprocessed foods since I began my career in culinary arts a decade ago. I’m uber-passionate about my Japanese upbringing and have been raised to eat real, clean and nutritious foods.

FNM: Where did the idea of cooking yourself sexy come from?

CK: Well, at first, "Cook Yourself Sexy" was just a title. But the more we thought about it, every woman wants to feel sexy, right? Sexy is about being confident. When you look good, you feel good. I want to help women achieve that sexy, confident, best self.

FNM: Why was it important for you to develop a meal plan that’s not just about losing weight, but also feeling sexy?

CK: I truly want every woman to feel confident in her own skin. I know, personally, when I’m not feeling my best, I’m certainly not my confident self. Every woman should feel radiant. They can take control of their lives just by changing the way they eat.

FNM: What does sexy mean to you?

CK: To me, sexy is confidence, intelligence, humor, class, humility, and happiness  — but I also found healthy individuals to be the sexiest of all.

FNM: Many of your dishes look and sound delicious, but how can they also help you to achieve a better-looking body?

CK: Its all about the ingredients you use. If you know how to utilize the right herbs and spices, cooking oils (like olive and coconut), lean cuts of proteins, as well as fruits and veggies, you can make any dish fresh and healthy.

FNM: What are five surprising foods that can help you feel sexy?

CK: I truly believe that beauty starts from the inside out. My picks are:

Avocados: I’m a California girl. What can I say? I have avocados running through my veins. Full of monounsaturated fats, vitamin K, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, vitamin C, folate, and even copper. I’m usually slicing them into salads, making some insane guacamole for my dinner parties, or blending them into smoothies. There is nothing better than a sliced avocado half with a little lemon juice and tamari soy sauce.

Bananas: I utilize frozen bananas in all green smoothies. They give amazing consistency, almost like ice cream in a way. I grab a banana on the go in the a.m. with almond butter. At night, bananas with organic chocolate syrup helps curb cravings. Plus, my mom and dad eat a bunch of bananas every week. They both look stellar in their 60s, so I shall follow suit.  

Genmaicha Green Tea: Toasted brown rice and green tea, a big part of my roots. It keeps me going in the morning. It’s loaded with polyphenols and tons of antioxidants.

Soba Noodles: Every time I go back to Japan I have these handmade noodles in Beppu where my mother grew up. They are a special part of my heritage and I just love them in salads, soups, and in place of pasta. You can find them at any local health-food store.

Green Smoothies/Juices: I recently fell back in love with my blender and juicer. I was all about just eating healthy, but man have these juices and smoothies changed my life. I drink 2 to 4 of my "clean green" juices/smoothies a day … I look better, feel better, and I have more energy than I ever needed. Energy drinks? How about rocket fuel from juicing a bunch of kale, apples and ginger-root?

FNM: What are some simple yet affordable ways women can cut down on calories without compromising on taste?

CK: Take advantage of cooking with more fresh herbs and spices, things where you know you will get flavor, but not necessarily fat. You don’t need copious amounts of fat for things to taste good. Make better choices every day. If you know something is not good for you, stay away from it. It’s all about discipline.

FNM: Are there any guilty dishes that you should absolutely stay away from to avoid packing on the pounds?

CK: I believe some of us are over-consuming calories every day. Take better control of calories on daily basis. Japan has taught me to eat less. I say you can still eat everything in moderation. Obviously you should only eat certain things on special occasions, like burgers, fries, milkshakes — your typical Americana food. Enjoy, but in moderation. My personal splurge right now is toriten, or Japanese fried chicken. Even fried chicken can be made over by breading and baking.

FNM: Many ladies love a cocktail or two, but these can also trigger weight gain. Is there a way to watch what we drink without giving up on happy hour?

CK: I do prefer that if women want to lose and maintain a healthy weight, they must drink in moderation. Personally, I love Champagne or a great bottle of Spanish or a California red wine with my girlfriends. But alcohol should only be for special occasions and weekends, not every day. Women can look and feel healthier with everything in moderation. Don't you ever notice how 'puffy' you look after drinking inflammation.

FNM: When it comes to food shopping, what should you look out for to get the most out of the "Cook Yourself Sexy" meal plan?

CK: My shopping cart looks something like this: fresh greens, whole grains, unsweetened almond milk, tuna, bananas, avocados, sweet potatoes, quinoa, dark chocolate, almond butter, coconut oil, and sometimes a nice bottle of red wine. 

FNM: What’s next for you?

CK: I’m thrilled and focused on working a few new book projects. The newest one is scheduled for release in 2014, and focuses on eating (and drinking) cleaner! I’m all about continuing my mission to get women gorgeous through cleaner foods.