Chef News

Emilio Morales of Sunshine Moon Peking Pub

Transitioning from the corporate life to running a restaurant of your own is no easy task. Close to 28 years in the making, Sunshine Moon Peking Pub in Old Town Scottsdale shows it can be done. Emilio Morales of Sunshine Moon, shares his journey from sous chef with P.F. Chang's to his position today as chef/owner. With decades of experience with Asian food, this guy knows his way around a wok. He sat down with us to share some of his trials, tribulations and other random details about himself and his new restaurant.

Good ol' days at Chang's: I grew up in New York - East End Long Island. I was at the Four Seasons in Newport Beach and then at the Four Seasons in Santa Barbara. I wasn't spending a lot of time with my family. I had just had a daughter. My wife found an ad in the paper saying "new concept, looking for chef" - it turned out to be P.F. Chang's. They were doing a big hiring at LAX airport, so I drove down and interviewed with the director of culinary and they hired me for a sous chef position. I trained in Newport Beach and a month in they asked me if I wanted to go to Houston, New Orleans or Denver. So, I went home and talked it over - we decided to go to Denver. Denver turned into the busiest restaurant in the company. We had 45 kitchen employees who had never cooked Asian food. We didn't have a lot of systems. It was 1996.

Parkas and pad thai: We couldn't get into the restaurant (Chang's in Denver) because of permits and things, so we had to train in the Marriott. No one had seen a wok or knew anything but what we were telling them. We opened the day after Christmas. We had no heat because they forgot to put the heaters in the restaurant - this was the first restaurant outside of Arizona, so they weren't in the plans. We were training in parkas and we would only train for an hour because the guys couldn't take it. It was like 15 degrees.

Find out what type of sports uniform Morales might be wearing had he not become a chef after the jump.

Tight end on the expo line: I either wanted to be a football player or a chef. One is more realistic, although I was good at playing football - in high school and then I tried out for the arena league as a tight end and actually made the team. My daughter was recently born and I got hurt during a practice and I decided that was the time that my family was more important and stopped trying to go after a dream that really wasn't worth it.

It's all in the family: My son doesn't play football yet. He's a baseball player - he's been playing since he was four and he's actually good. He wants to play football, but he's too small. He's a tall kid, but he's skinny. I don't want him to get hurt or get jaded too soon. It's one thing to watch guys play and it's another thing to have all the pads on and have practices. I want him to be ready mentally and physically and I think he'll be great.

A mixed heritage: I'm Puerto Rican and my mother's Afro-American. My mother is the reason why I'm a chef.

Best part about the restaurant industry: The people, the relationships you develop. I think it keeps you young. I know all the trends. I know what my kids are doing. I'm always around young people. Developing those people, watching them grow, watching them become executive chefs, training them to take over my position - that's what makes me happy. That to me is why I haven't been given the opportunity to grow concepts.

Selfless acts of cultivation: When I left Chang's, I had trained I don't even know how many people. When I left Pei Wei, I had opened over 100 restaurants. In my own restaurant I've probably had 10 guys who have gone on to become either regional guys or executive chefs from dishwasher or prep-cook positions.

No easy 'A' for Asian food: People need to respect Asian food. I think the biggest mistake people make is that they think it's easy - you throw a bunch of items in a wok, you turn it on and it all comes together. There's so much preparation that goes into marinating and seasoning. When everything is executed correctly, it becomes this great dish. A lot of people don't know how it became that and they don't necessarily want to, but the steps and the care that is taken to develop each individual item is what makes Chinese food great.

Childhood angst over mayo: I hated mayonnaise growing up. I like mayonnaise now, unfortunately. I used to think it was disgusting. We use a Japanese mayo here. It's heavier; it's more yellow and has more yolk-base than white mayo. It comes on our burger, which also has caramelized onions, bacon and an egg.

See what Morales knows about sushi and find out which kind of Asian food he'd like to know a little more about tomorrow in part two.

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Keyon Fareghi
Contact: Keyon Fareghi