To some, the Moka pot is a fetish and design icon as likely to be found at a museum (one is in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection) as in a young jazz singer’s galley kitchen in Harlem.
Invented in Italy during the Great Depression, the stovetop coffee maker liberated espresso from the caffè bar and made it something that Italians could brew easily and affordably at home. When Renato Bialetti, who sold millions of the little machines (his father, Alfonso, was the first to manufacture them), died last month, his ashes were interred in a giant Moka pot.
To Cécile McLorin Salvant, who won this year’s Grammy Award for jazz vocal album (“For One to Love”), the coffee maker is at once more mundane and magical: a quick means to what she calls “a wonderful drug,” and a reminder of her childhood home in Miami, where she grew up with the scent of coffee always at the ready, bubbling in any one of her parents’ three battered and beloved Moka pots.
Note that her pot is not the Art Deco original from Bialetti, with gleaming octagonal slopes of aluminum. (When Bialetti introduced the Moka Express, the fascist leader Benito Mussolini had imposed an embargo on stainless steel in favor of Italian bauxite ore.) Hers comes from Ikea and is stainless steel, which some coffee obsessives prefer, to prevent a metallic aftertaste.
But Ms. Salvant, 26, isn’t so fussy. The pot was a gift from her mother, and it does the job. Water in the bottom chamber is heated slowly until steam pressure forces it through loose grounds in the basket above; coffee collects at the top.
“It kind of settles me,” Ms. Salvant said. She pours the coffee into a thermos and nurses it while she works at the piano.
She didn’t start singing jazz until she was 18, while studying political science in Aix-en-Provence, France, after years of classical voice lessons. (She still fondly recalls Bach’s “Coffee Cantata,” in which a worried father threatens to block his daughter’s marriage unless she stops drinking coffee.)
Three years later, she won the prestigious Thelonious Monk competition, which honors up-and-coming jazz artists. Nate Chinen, writing in The Times, has called her “the finest jazz singer to emerge in the last decade.”
In France, she started cooking, too, drawing on recipes from her mother, who is of French-Guadeloupean descent and spent her youth in Tunisia, Senegal, Bolivia and Cuba. “Mafé, yassa, ragoût de porc, Guadeloupe poisson, chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, boeuf bourgignon,” Ms. Salvant recited, almost in incantation.
She owes her birth in part to her mother’s cooking skills. Her father, a doctor from Haiti, tasted a batch of nem (Senegalese spring rolls) that her mother had made for a friend. “I want to meet her,” he said.
In season, her parents ship her mangoes from their backyard in Miami, and she hasn’t had the heart to buy the fruit in New York. Instead, she’s been eking out a jar of mango compote that her mother made last summer, scooping spoonfuls between sips of coffee.
Recently, her mother started experimenting with mango tarte Tatin. “She posts it online, with pictures,” Ms. Salvant said, half-offended, half-yearning. “That’s just rude.”
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