Interview with Chef Vernon Morales of Salt – Philadelphia, PA
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 admire?
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 like?
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 spice? Why?
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.