Finding Your Way from Culinary School to Food Television
Chef Candice Kumai attended Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles, California, from 2004 to 2005 and has since taken her training, her experience working in several California restaurants, and her modeling background to find success in food media.
Her list of accomplishments is long, and it includes contributions to five cookbooks, including two cookbooks where she wrote and developed each recipe and produced each photo shoot on her own. Her latest cookbook, Cook Yourself Sexy, is due out in October and is already receiving positive reviews.
In addition to her work as a cookbook author, Chef Candice is also a weekly food writer for Men's Health, Women's Health, and contributes to various lifestyle publications. Chef Candice currently serves as a judge on Iron Chef America and has appeared on a number of other television programs including Lifetime's Cook Yourself Thin, TLC's Home Made Simple, TODAY Show, Dr. Oz, and others.
We recently sat down with Chef Candice to talk about her journey into food media, and we found that her journey isn’t a commonly traveled one. In fact, some would say that she is one-of-a-kind. She’s been sought after as the new “it” girl in food.
Familiarity with food and the camera at an early age
Chef Candice says that her mother carries a huge responsibility in creating the culinary monster in her. As a Japanese American, she explained that during childhood her mother’s Japanese cooking was a big part of her cultural upbringing. Japanese food, while not her main culinary focus today, is ingrained in her and has always influenced her cooking.
But it goes further than that. When asked what motivated her to get her start in the culinary field, Chef Candice responded by saying she loved to make people happy. “Food is a universal language that needs no words.”
As for the camera, a modeling agent in San Diego, California, discovered Chef Candice at a school career fair. At the young age of 14 she quickly learned to work with the camera.
“I saw that it was about playing a role,” she said. “That allowed me to know what to do with the camera.”
From that point forward Chef Candice has worked in modeling, even while attending school.
The culinary school journey
Her first venture in higher education was toward a degree in interpersonal communications, but while studying at a traditional university, her love of food and cooking nagged her. After some debate with her parents, she listened to that nagging voice and attended culinary school.
“I will never forget the Intro 1 class with Chef Cook,” Chef Candice explained. “She kept me engaged and interested in my classes and let me know that a culinary career was not an easy career path and certainly not glamorous. Her realistic and optimistic approach of teaching was refreshing and also a wake-up call for those of us who wanted to work in food media.
“I remember every chef who taught me, including Chef Cook, Chef Cone, Chef Tumi, Chef Chapman, and Chef Bressler. I’ve not forgotten what hard work is because I’m constantly reminded what you put in is what you get out. I worked my butt off in culinary school to make sure I was always top of the class and so I could prove to my parents that cooking for a living was certainly do-able.”
From modeling to culinary school to Top Chef contestant
The moment that changed Chef Candice’s career path happened in the library where she often studied.
“I was studying for an Intro 2 exam and grabbed a piece of scrap paper from the library to jot down some notes,” she recalled. “After I finished the exam I crumpled up the paper to throw it away and noticed that on the back of the paper there was a casting call for a new series Bravo TV’s Top Chef. “I kept the paper and showed my friends, because I just couldn’t believe that there was something like that out there. They encouraged me to try out and so I did. That show changed everything for me at the young age of 23. I still have that scrap of paper.”
When asked about the similarities between modeling and cooking Chef Candice says there really isn’t any similarity, but she did bridge the gap.
“While modeling I was around beautiful things and beautiful people and I wanted to bring that to food. Also, I was taught as a child to work solely with a golden standard – that was my mother’s way and that was the only way. I guess that’s why the ingredients I choose and the presentation of the dish matter so much to me.”
Chef Candice’s guiding principles
As Chef Candice says, “Culture, quality, balance, and moderation are guiding principles for great food and a happy life.” She embodies these principles in every facet of her life and to all the recipes in Cook Yourself Sexy. But for culinary students seeking a career in food media, there’s more to it than these principles.
“I advise all culinary students to work on the line for at least a year or two. You will gain more knowledge and experience than you could ever imagine. You’ll also learn how a pair of checkered pants and black clogs will humble you more than anything else. You’ll make $8 an hour and come home at 2am smelling like tempura batter, but your knife skills will reach their greatest potential by working in a restaurant.”
She also recommends that aspiring culinarians take the words “privilege” and “failure” out of their vocabulary.
“As long as you have everything it takes to get there, you will,” she said. “Do the work—even scrub the sink—no complaining, no negotiating.”
Career success will depend largely on the effort put into studies, job search efforts, experience and attitude. Le Cordon Bleu does not and cannot guarantee employment, and the experience of the alumni is not representative of all students.