The answers, if Christina Whited of New York City is to be taken at her word, are yes and probably not. Whited, a 38-year-old psychic experimenter and mother of three, swears that for the last 11 months she has been entertaining an unusual visitor in her kitchen: James Beard, the dean of American gastronomy, who exited this vale of cholesterol after a heart attack in 1985. Three years of dining at Chez Hereafter have drastically slimmed the late chef's bulbous profile, Whited reports. "His face is the same as it used to be, right down to his double chin," but Beard now looks to be half the age he was when he died, which was 81.
Well, anybody could lose weight following the recipes Whited says Beard has been dictating to her. Far from the Lucullan feasts for which he was renowned, they include such prim nibbles as tofu pudding pie, rye sesame sticks and carob cookies (right). For a spell there, she says, Beard wasn't pleased about working with a health-oriented chef and channeler, but he came to see that "this is a cooperative effort."
Not everyone, alas, is sold on Whited's channeled cookery, and one of those least sold on it is Peter Kump, proprietor of Peter Kump's New York Cooking School in Manhattan, president of the James Beard Foundation and an assistant to Beard when he was cooking on mortal coils. "I tried some of the recipes, and they simply were not good," Kump complains. "There were a lot of mistakes in proportioning the ingredients that a good cook like James would simply not make." Maybe it's a case of too many cooks.
Whited used to design and supply hats to the likes of Macy's and B. Altman's before she devoted most of her time eight years ago to raising her kids and investigating psychic phenomena. She is married to Henry Widmaier, an artist-turned-real estate agent who unfortunately has no heavenly properties. She says her spiritual partners are not limited to chefs; they include John Lennon, Van Gogh, Shakespeare, Isadora Duncan and St. Peter. None of those has thus far given her any recipes, but, she says, St. Peter "assigned James to help me" because she didn't see halo to halo with the first chef she channeled, health guru Adelle Davis, who died in 1974. "Our energy was just too different for productivity," she says.
Whited seems to be serious about her celestial recipes. "We all have access to spirits," she says, "but many of us aren't ready or just don't choose to contact them." She also has a down-to-earth sense of humor about her assignment, and since she contacted Beard, she says, their collaboration has been peachy. "He's a delightful man," she says. Courteous too. "There's an invisible blackboard on my wall where he posts the time he'll next arrive," Whited reports. "He usually stops by around 7 p.m., although on weekends he often comes around in the morning."
Whited notes that Beard, who calls her "my dear," dresses casually in khaki pants and oxford shirts and always wears a white apron. Her children are not surprised when they see Mommy talking to Beard because, she says, "they have invisible playmates too."
So far Whited's gustatory ghost has passed along about 50 recipes, which she hopes to publish one day as The Transformation Diet Cookbook. Message for Ms. Whited: If Beard gives you a recipe for angel food cake, don't argue, just write it down. We'll be right over.
One of the questions that has tormented mankind since the dawn of time is whether or not there is an afterworld. And if so, as Woody Allen might have said, can you get a good corned beef sandwich there?