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New Orleans

This Psychic Helped Me Channel Julia Child and James Beard

I met with the premium psychic medium in New Orleans to understand what departed and famous members of the food world think about our current culinary choices.

Phil McCausland

Illustration by Yuliya Tsoy

I hadn't imagined seeking the help of a psychic medium would take me to the sixth floor of the New Orleans' Exchange Center in the city's Central Business District, but I'd just stepped off the elevator in hopes of finding Cari Roy. I passed a sign advertising a fitness center and two conference rooms before I turned the corner and saw a middle-aged blonde woman peeking her head out from behind a set of double doors next to a plain white receptionist desk.

"Are you Phil?" Cari Roy asked.

"Uh, yeah," I said, slowing my pace. "That's me. Cari?"

She swung the door open completely and nodded. "I knew you were coming."

Though I'd made an appointment with Roy—considered a, if not the, premium psychic medium in New Orleans—I'd run a few minutes late and her sudden appearance was impressive. With her help, I hoped to understand what departed and famous members of the food world thought of our contemporary culinary choices and how they're coping with the afterlife. Roy immediately whisked me through the doorway and offered me coffee before we made our way to her office, telling me how fun this project was for her.

"Let me tell you what," she said with a big grin and raised eyebrows. "Julia Child? Not a bitch. Very cool. These are some very loud, powerful personalities."

Over the past few days Roy had pulled together a few food-related ghosts during her meditations. Roy's a third-generation spiritual practitioner with more than 20 years of experience speaking to the departed (she didn't care to provide an exact number of years as she believes it dates her). So at morning's start, we sat in leather desk chairs in her office, each equipped with its own plush pillow, and discussed the spirits she'd found herself talking to culinary legends: Julia Child, James Beard, and Al Copeland, entrepreneur and founder of Popeye's Chicken.

MUNCHIES: What are these spirits like? Can you unpack what you mean when you said they're loud and powerful. Cari Roy: They're all in the ethers, as I call it, or in the great big kitchen in the sky. They're funny, though. You've got to have drive to do what these guys do. They're almost like explorers. They have this energy, every single one of them. I find this common psyche in these chefs that they had their own ways of doing things, but they are the same archetypal soldier or explorer, like, 'Man the ships and let's go!'

You couldn't be someone who bores easy if you're a chef, because the work is constant. It's a perfect thing for somebody who can just create. They're artists, but they're leading other artists simultaneously. They're conductors. Who does everybody look at in the kitchen? They look at the chef.

They all have this common thing, even Julia Child. She wants to be known for being bold—just pure progressive. Going into something that hadn't been done by women, I mean who did you have before that? James Beard, maybe? But he had… has totally different reasons. He wants to be known for elegance. He's more like Henry VIII. He's much more regal. He wants to be known as the chef to royalty. That's what I feel.

So is legacy still a big deal to them? Oh yeah, and if you look at them, they're really pretty immortal. There are other people who might be titans in their industry who don't have the immortality that chefs do, because we all speak food. It binds the masses.

They're each pioneers. Al Copeland: I tie into his energy, and I just feel… speedboats don't even come to describe what his energy is like. I feel like this guy woke up in the morning with testosterone pumping. That kind of driven manic personality. He wanted to live forever is what I get from him, and what he wanted to be remembered for is him. [Laughs]

He's such a funny personality, but you could see why that would be. He, of everybody, came from hunger. He really did. It's interesting how each of them wants to be remembered. They're happy they are remembered. They feel like they accomplished what they needed to accomplish. Copeland's the only unhappy one. I imagine his house has some haunts going on—rattling—but he's going to have to come to terms with that. Copeland is so localized though. That's why he opened Copeland's, because he was like, "I want to be famous! I don't want to hide behind Popeyes. People should know who I am. I am Copeland!"

These chefs we're talking about are really known for their rich, rich foods. Julia Child is famous and was criticized for her use of cream and butter. I wonder how they feel about today's chefs and their cooking in that respect. 'You only live once' is what I get from all of them. They understand this is a short ride. Everybody knows that when they get to the other side, this is just a drop in the bucket of eternity. Other than Copeland, I don't think any of them wanted to live forever. He's the most troubled, but I think the others find this Zen.

I'm curious because Julia Child always talks about this fear of food that Americans had, which was a bold thing to say. She's telling me that she would be in tech. She'd be coding, she would be doing something like that.

Copeland's on the other side. He was bold, he was brash, but he wasn't brilliant like the others. He was smart and made a hell of a lot more money than me, so he must be smarter than me, but he wanted to be famous for being him. It didn't matter what made that happen: chicken, biscuits, cheesecake—it was all to elevate him. He's the least creative of the bunch. It could've been burgers, it could've been ice cream, it could've been anything. As far as energy is concerned though, he's got the biggest drive and the biggest balls.

James Beard is a complete groundbreaker. He set the stage, but he was polished. I get him as being very "dot every 'i' and cross every 't.'" Julia Child—who seems very formal as a spirit—I don't get her like that at all. She's more fun. She's more like a big puppy in her energy.

When you first mentioned Julia Child, you said, "Julia Child? Not a bitch." No. She isn't at all.

But you say she's very formal and very playful. What do you mean by that? Oh, she's just formal because that was her time. I think she's a very classy woman of her time. She is probably the classiest of all of them. James Beard is up there too, but with him—I think he has obsessive compulsive disorder. It's wonderful how he is remembered for an award of excellence because I would imagine you need to be OCD to win that. He's so… [Roy shudders and makes a barking sound]

I'm sure Julia Child was OK with messing up from time-to-time. Of all of them, I'd want to hang out with her. They all have very different personalities, but they all have that core drive, that core strength of spirit and energy.

What do they think of the ties between celebrity and chef. Is it problematic? Well, celebrity was always tied into being a chef.

[Roy stops]

Who is saying that? Celebrity was always tied into being a chef…

[Long pause]

Now, there're more channels and more personalities. No one is ever going to not want to look at good food. How do you make a crowd happy? Give them the smell of butter and good things cooking, and they'll sit there and...

[Roy claps]

Everybody wants good food.

So they're saying there's more room for it now? There are more people. There's more access. I think the people who are going to go for the level of fame that each of these people have, even though I think the most zealous… well, they're all zealous. It seems to be part of the personality type.

Who wants to become a general? Who wants to be a CEO? It takes a personality type. It is interesting because they each have those personalities. It's a core thing with them, and so that's what you have to do. That's what separates the people on TV from the people staying in the kitchen, is that desire to be on TV. There are still chefs now who you ask, "Do you want a TV show?" and they'd say, "No." Not everybody wants that. Each of these people saw value in that, although Copeland is the one who's kind of ticked off. He didn't get to TV.

That's interesting for James Beard, because at times that award provides prestige to people who don't have that celebrity, necessarily. He would probably have a show. I get him having a show. I get him having a network. I know someone who works for a chef—Flay, I think?

Bobby Flay. Yeah, Bobby Flay. Doesn't he basically have a food network or something?

He has a lot of shows on the Food Network. Well, Beard's business. I get from him that he's business. James Beard is that. He's a mix of Flay with the experience and the polish. He would've been a CEO nowadays. He would've led a food network or a food empire.

There're some people today who are like these guys. Martha Stewart is like that. She's driven, man. She sleeps only a few hours a night and then jumps out of bed. Emeril! Bam! Even Justin Wilson, who doesn't really come through, seems laidback. He was on television, right, so how laidback was he?

So, what we're talking about overlaps somewhat with the blogger who cooked all of the recipes out of Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. Julia Child came across as dismissive of it because she said it seemed like an act. Child's formal. She grew up in a time where that was gauche. Also, what I get from her is that the woman made it too personal. It's Julia Child after all! She was not personal. It does take away from the food, and she's not a bitch for saying that. Its just "kids nowadays." It's like somebody listening to rock 'n' roll who is an opera singer. It's going to be dismissive, yeah: "Come back when you've learned something, honey."

Julia Child studied French cooking, and she had to go there and learn it. So yeah: she sees the blogger as brazen and not in good form. In the grand scheme of things, I don't think Julia Child's spirit is losing any sleep over it, but it was too personal. That's why she didn't like it.

Julia Child was professional. She was formal. Although, like I said, I'd hang out with her. I think she'd be fun.

Does she have a lot to say in opposition to the innumerable food trends going on? The Paleo diet? I think she's more concerned with men still being more known for food today. She doesn't think that's an awesome thing. Why hasn't anyone picked up the baton after her and run with it? For every Susan Spicer, how many men's TV shows do you have? What are the odds on cooking shows?

I don't watch these reality cooking shows. What's the balance? Probably five men for every female. She's not too thrilled about that.

[Long pause]

James Beard thinks it has become too much of a circus, but he would run the circus.

And Al Copeland wants his own reality show. [Roy laughs]

That makes sense. It's all Wild West with him. He's of that self-made, "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" ethic. I don't think he'll ever get beyond that, because he's very much hung up on the idea of "I made all this money but still can't get into the country club."

But he would love to have a statue.