253 S 20th St
Pamela Lewy: : Why did you
start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Vernon Morales: I always liked
to cook. When I was younger in Nicaragua, we had a maid that used
to cook our meals and I used to hang out in the kitchen with her.
When I went to college, I learned to cook for myself. My brother
was my roommate and he saw that I wasn’t quite fitting in
the college scene, so he urged me to go to culinary school.
PL: Who are your mentors?
VM: I have a lot of respect
for Laurant Gras. I worked with him in Peacock Alley for over a
year and a half until the restaurant closed after 9-11.
PL: What chef/s do you most
VM: Laurant Gras is a great
perfectionist. He taught me a lot about cooking and other ways of
looking at the profession.
PL: You spent about a year
in Spain training under Ferrán Adria and Martín Berasategui,
how did you get these coveted internships? What was this experience
VM: I speak Spanish so that
made it easier. I was persistent and I just made some phone calls.
Those were both great experiences. I was there for over a year and
a half so I really got a feel for what Spanish cuisine was about.
I would do it again if I could.
PL: What is your most indispensable
kitchen tool? Why?
VM: I have two: a probe thermometer
that I use mostly for cryovac bags, and a digital scale. I use these
everyday. They’re good for precision and consistency.
PL: What cities do you like
for culinary travel?
VM: I love Barcelona, Paris,
San Sebastian, Madrid and Sevilla.
PL: What are your favorite
food haunts in your city?
VM: I love Morimoto. I think
its one of the best restaurants in Philly. I also love Melograno
for simple, rustic Italian food.
PL: What is your favorite
VM: Long Indonesia peppercorns
for their spiciness and floral aroma. I make a wild striped bass
with a combination of these peppercorns, vanilla jus and rhubarb.
PL: What is your favorite
question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
VM: I don’t have a generic
question; I usually just get a feeling. But it’s important
to ask whether or not they enjoy cooking. It’s important to
like what you do. At the end of the day you have to feel fortunate
that you’re doing something you like.
PL: What advice/tip do you
have for culinary students just getting started?
VM: Learn as much as you can
and take advantage of places you’re working in. Keep an open
mind and keep motivated. It’s a very long road…there
are lots of sacrifices.
PL: Where do you see yourself
in 5 years? In 10 years?
VM: I can’t answer that
right now. I eventually I see myself owning a restaurant like Salt;
a personal and seasonal restaurant that works with good products.