Chefs on StarChefs
253 S 20th St
Philadelphia, PA

Biography »

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.



Salt | Philadelphia, PA

While growing up in Nicaragua, Vernon Morales was often found in the kitchen, quietly observing his mom’s cooking and taking in all he could. These days, Morales is still in the kitchen, but running his own show. After rigorous training with three of the most respected chefs in the world - Ferrán Adria, Martín Berasategui, and Daniel Boulud – Morales was appointed executive chef at Salt in Philadelphia, an intimate restaurant and the ideal environment for him to create and execute his own progressive cuisine.

Young Rabbit Escabeche, Snail Croquettes and Spring Garlic Aioli
Chef Vernon Morales of Salt – Philadelphia, PA
Adapted by StarChefs

Yield: 4 Servings


    Rabbit legs:
  • 4 rabbit legs, front quarters
  • 2 ounces Spanish paprika
  • White pepper, to taste
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • ½ fresh bay leaf
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 ounces white wine
  • 6 ounces extra virgin olive oil
  • Splash of sherry vinegar
    Rabbit jus:
  • 20 ounces rabbit bones
  • 1 Tablespoon duck fat or olive oil
  • 3 ounces shallot, cut into thick slices
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • Rock salt
  • 3 sage leaves
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 2 ounces broth from pot with rabbit legs
  • 1 ounce rabbit jus
  • Sherry vinegar, to taste
  • Salt
  • Pepper
    Garlic aioli:
  • 2 ounces garlic cloves, peeled, germ removed
  • 1 ounce whole milk, warmed
  • Salt and white pepper
  • 2 ounces butter
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 shallot, peeled and finely diced
  • ½ ounce Serrano ham, finely cut
  • 2 ounces snails, meat cleaned, finely cut
  • 2 ounces all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • Parsley, to taste
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • White pepper, to taste
  • 1 whole egg, beaten
  • Fine bread crumbs
  • Vegetable or peanut oil for deep frying


For rabbit legs:
Preheat oven to 200°F. Remove excess fat from rabbit legs. Dust legs with Spanish paprika and season with white pepper, salt, thyme, and rosemary. Arrange legs in a pot. Add garlic and bay leaf, and cover duck legs 1/3 of the way with white wine. Add olive oil. Roast in oven for 2 hours or until tender. Allow to cool and reserve for sauce. Separate meat from bones, removing any excess fat. Strain broth and oil with a large china cap or strainer and reserve for sauce.

For rabbit jus:
Remove fat from bones and chop into medium-sized pieces. Heat a large saucepot over medium-high heat. Add duck fat and bones and cook until bones caramelize. Drain fat and add shallots and garlic and simmer slowly. Add a pint of chicken stock. Reduce, caramelize and add an additional pint. Reduce again and add the remaining chicken stock. Boil slowly for two hours, until jus reaches a syrupy consistency. Add sage leaves and thyme sprig. Strain jus.

For sauce:
Separate most of the oil from reserved rabbit leg broth. Combine 2 ounces broth with rabbit jus in a saucepan over medium-high heat.

For garlic aioli:
Place garlic in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and strain. Repeat two additional times. Puree in food processor or blender with warm milk and season with salt and pepper.

For croquettes:
In a large saucepan, melt butter and add garlic and shallots, sautéing until tender. Dust ham and snails with flour and add to saucepan. Sauté for 5 minutes and then add the milk, whisking constantly. Cook for 15 minutes and add parsley, salt and pepper. Allow to cool. Divide the cooled mixture into 2-ounce portions. Shape portions into balls and roll in flour. Dip them in egg and then cover them completely with fine breadcrumbs. Fry croquettes in hot oil heated to 350°F until crisp and golden brown. Drain with paper towels and season with salt.

To serve:
Warm rabbit and place in the center of the plate. Garnish with garlic aioli. Place croquettes on top and drizzle with sauce.


 Published: May 2004