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OP: Alchemist's Cookbook (paperback)

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by Ahmed Yacoubi
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Omen Press, 1972. Paperback. Fine.

Ahmed Yacoubi (1928–1985) was a Moroccan-born surrealist and abstract painter; family tradition said he was born in a direct line of descent of Mohammed. He, along with his father and grandfather, was also trained in f’qih, the deep spiritual interpretation of Islamic law, which included the laying on of hands and herbalism for the purpose of physical and spiritual healing.

During the 1950s, Yacoubi found fast friends and patrons in Paul and Jane Bowles, themselves artists deeply steeped in the creative scene at the time. He then became acquainted with the likes of Francis Bacon, William Burroughs, Tennessee WIlliams, and Allen Ginsberg.

Yacoubi was a talented cook who often hosted dinner parties for his circle of creatives and became well-known for his skills in the kitchen. In 1972, his Alchemist’s Cookbook, subtitled Moroccan Scientific Cuisine, was independently published by Omen Press in Tucson, Arizona. 

The cultural climate of the early ‘70s is well-represented in this striking and unusual book. Overlapping interests in mysticism, psychedelia, and counterculture are rife. Each signature of the book is printed on different color paper, adding to the trippy vibe.

The dishes are simple and lack headnotes, so it is with careful reading that we spot odd dashes of character as in the note to “Use your imagination on measures. With freedom we can share.” Or such unusual ingredients as two drops of blood from a pricked right forefinger.

Some recipe names will have you curious to know more: “how to be gentle with your brains” or “what’s left of green.” Others leave little room for misinterpretation: “eggplant in general” or “onions dinner.”  Though the most often cited recipes are the first and last: soup to cure jealousy and hashish haraira—a stew of chickpeas, vegetables, vermicelli, egg, and, of course, hashish. Quirky and probably quite different from what you’ve seen before.

his a scarce and heavily sought volume. It is with great serendipity that we have been able to pick up a handful of copies from the author’s longtime romantic and collaborative partner, Carol Cannon, who discovered them among his stored artworks. These paperback copies, published simultaneously with the hardcovers, have never been in circulation and are in excellent condition, showing only the signs of long and lonely storage. An unusual and prized find.

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