“I’VE RECENTLY STARTED POSTING VIDEOS OF MYSELF EATING,” SAYS WRITER AND SOMETIMES MODEL ANNA Z GRAY, CURLING UP WITH A JAR OF KIMCHI. “I fell into the internet hole of the Korean phenomenon Mukbang. I follow all the girls who do it on Instagram. It’s fascinating. They eat so much food. There’s this one American chick who’s very charming and only eats things covered in spicy Cheetos. I started eating fruits, vegetables and kimchi. The kimchi video did really well.” When she’s not broadcasting her #mukbang travails on social media (see a towel-turbaned Gray slurping spicy noodles in a pool or donning hoops and headband reciting haikus while eating a banana), you can find Gray starring in campaigns from Free People, trekking through Asia with the team of cult-brand Alyx or adding lust-worthy items to her cult Insta-account Things I would buy if I didn’t have to pay rent. Read on to learn Gray’s predilection for Asian snacks, the intelligence of octopus and which clean beauty app you need to download now.
Photography by Jeffrey Rose
How has your own background informed the types of food you’re drawn to?
My mom is Chinese and my dad is Irish. I definitely grew up with traditional Chinese foods. Long life noodles, rice cakes with pork and cabbage. I still get that here in Chinatown. I also love dumplings and sesame balls. Irish cuisine, on the other hand, is not known for being particularly delicious. When I lived in Ireland as a child, I remember drinking buckets of tea with biscuits.
When did your interest in health foods begin?
My mom is a total health nut. I was allowed to buy one piece of candy on Fridays. I wasn’t allowed to have sugar or food coloring. Having an understanding of foods you should be eating versus foods you shouldn’t be eating was so valuable. Even if it’s coming from a space that’s guilt, in the long run, it’s beneficial.
Did she give you any tips that you have taken into your life now?
In a big picture way, she’s always thinking about how to pare down and how to be less wasteful. She’s an architect that specializes in sustainability. My parents compost everything. I remember a couple years ago she was like, “We’re not using dryer sheets any more! They’re so wasteful!” And I was like, you’re right.
Did you have junk food around as a kid?
I remember for one of my birthdays, all I wanted was to take my friends to McDonalds and there were no McDonald’s. You had to drive one hour to Dublin to even get to one. My parents drove us there so we could eat Happy Meals and play in the playpen. It was the opposite of fast food.
What are certain healthy habits you’ve picked up over the years?
I love drinking Health Ade kombucha. It has probiotics and it tastes good. I like that fermented taste, which is why I like kimchi. I really like the way it tastes when I’m craving something spicy. I’ll eat it straight out of the jar. When I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll add some rice. I really like spicy food. That’s a serious takeaway from growing up in a Chinese family.
Where do you go to get your spicy fix?
If I want to go eat really spicy foods, there are only five of my friends that will participate. I like Mala Project. It’s dry hot pot. It’s Szechuan, which is so spicy. They’ll ask you if you want mild, medium or spicy and I can’t get past medium. It’s also delicious and super flavorful. Usually I can handle any restaurant’s spicy food but that place is my challenge.
Favorite NYC restaurants?
I eat at Cafe Mogador a lot because it’s on my block. I really like the chicken kabob sandwich. It comes with pickles and harissa and you mix it around and it’s really good. They also have Middle Eastern eggs that I like. Minca for ramen. I get the spicy miso but I can’t eat a whole bowl. I also love Somtum Der, Cafe Cluny, Oliver Street Coffee and Lalito–omg their vegan Caesar salad. Dinner is my dietary focus because that’s where I do most of my socializing. I like trying new places. Last night I went to Epistrophy for dinner, which I liked. I really love Narcissa. Last time I got the octopus but I’m trying to to eat octopus anymore. They’re too smart.
They’re crazy smart. Probably smarter than a lot of humans. It’s super sentient. It’s like eating a dog or a dolphin or a gorilla.
What does a typical breakfast look like?
I like to have a smoothie for breakfast. I’ll walk over to Juice Press and get the Clean Green Protein. I’ll usually wait until lunch, if I worked out, then I’ll have one of those Macrobars that I really like. They remind me of Asian food because they have a rice gluten texture, because it’s made with rice flour, rather than a granola-y flavor or texture.
Asian snacks like this party mix and Mochi.
Do you workout?
I go to SLT. It’s so hard, you get really strong. When I was really into it, winter, early spring this year, I was going at least once a week. When I was going a lot I could do way more push-ups than I could do in my entire life. I like yoga and plates. Yoga I like Sky Ting, it’s kind of far, I walk there and back so it’s double exercise. I like NY Pilates.
What supplements do you live by?
I used to have my hair down to my butt and I had a crisis and had my ex-boyfriend cut it all off and it was not a great haircut. I’ve been growing it out. Skin I pay attention to. I started taking Biotin because my roommate’s hair grew really fast and I was like what are you doing? It’s also really good for your nails. If I don’t paint my nails, then I bite them. Sometimes I take 5HTP, it’s a natural happy pill. I try to take Vitman E and charcoal.
You travel a ton for work, what are your travel musts?
I like the Glossier mega greens mask and their Invisible Shield. And nail polish. I do my own nails. If I’m stressed out, I paint my nails. When I’m home, I really like CAP Beauty for facials. They don’t do any extractions, apparently you don’t need to get them. The facialist, who was amazing, was like just leave the blackheads.
You have amazing skin. How would you describe your skincare routine?
For the past year, I’ve been using a water-less routine unless I’m masking because if you’re traveling, when I’m in LA, my skin gets weird. Maybe it’s the water and maybe it’s the air pollution. New York water is great. Whenever I come home, I notice an immediate difference. So I use micellaire cleanser. I make sure the cotton swab comes clean. I switch between Yes To Cucumbers and Dior Hydralife Micellaire Water no-rinse cleanser. I’m OCD about things touching stuff, I don’t like putting your hand in things. So their containers are push pumps. After that, I use Thayer’s Rose Water Toner.
Do you care about clean beauty at all?
I definitely lean towards all natural products. I downloaded this app called Think Dirty where you type in your beauty product and it rates it from 1 to 10. It’s so scary. 10 is really bad and a couple of my things were 9. Ceravae, which I used for years is super toxic and toxic in a way that’s like this chemical is banned in Europe. Like if you keep using this product it’s going to mess with your reproductive organs. La Mer is also really bad. Glossier does really well on that app.
What are your clean beauty essentials?
I have a Diva Cup. It’s a silicone cup that you use instead of tampons. Tampons are bad for you. Even the natural ones I was getting, you’re not supposed to use. The cotton material is too coarse and basically lacerates your skin in a tiny way. During the day I use Beauty Counter Rejuvenating Day Cream; Crystal Essence deodorant; Fur oil is for your pubic hairs but I use this on my normal hair; and I use Tata Harper Retonoic Face Oil, I just started using it and within three days I was like, wow, I’m stunning.