The Bulletin INTERVIEW
As part of The Bulletin’s Gala Dinner Dance and Annual Product Awards special edition we meet the mind behind the meal to find out his views on the future of foodservice, the challenges in banqueting and his thoughts on frozen food.
so have pressure from both sides. It’s a challenging time for hotels, more so than restaurants, margins aren’t really that big but often guests expect more from hotels that they’d happily pay for in a restaurant.
We meet Chef Marshall in his office in the heart of the rabbit warren that is the Hilton Park Lane’s vast kitchens which are a hive of activity behind the scenes of one of the capital’s busiest and most luxurious hotels.
For many of us that have been to one of BFFF’s events at the Hilton we’ve been amazed by the sheer volume of exquisite dishes that Chef Marshall and his team are able to put together, something he says is their signature style.
Adorning the walls is a multitude of pictures of the man himself in amongst pictures of his heroes including a signed frame of Mohammed Ali and a vast team of chefs in whites from The Dorchester where he served out his apprenticeship.
“Our ethos is to make banquet food feel as good as a restaurant, when the starter comes out we want people to think ‘wow’. We want you to feel that if you closed your eyes and block out the 800 plus other guests you could be in a restaurant. That’s what we strive for.”
“There were around 120 to 150 chefs in those days, you’d never see that now” he points out. “I started in the kitchens at The Dorchester at the age of 14 during the school holidays. I went for a week but stayed for the whole eight weeks of the holiday and then went back for a job as soon as I could.
“We test everything before we serve it and make sure it’s planned to perfection, mistakes just can’t happen in a banquet setting. Events of this size have to be planned like a military event” he adds.
“It wasn’t all about academic qualifications back then. Being a chef is about the passion you have and it’s a love. Yes money pays the bills but really its about the love for food.” So why at the tender age of 14 did this young lad from Ealing want to take up a career in one of the UK’s most prestigious kitchens, we asked? “I’ve always been around food, my parents had a fast food restaurant in Ealing and my dad always dabbled in food. It wasn’t haute cuisine, it was a hard working family business and most of the family were involved. We were hard up but if you want to make it in this industry the opportunities are out there. That’s what I love about catering, there’s no prejudice, and we’re all different it’s a truly mult-cultural industry.” So on the subject of a multi-cultural industry what does Chef Marshall think will be the impact of Brexit on the hospitality industry in the UK given that it currently employs hundreds of thousands of European workers? “I think we might struggle to attract the best talent initially but just like how the pound bounced back after the initial vote I think it will level out again. “Some ingredient prices such as butter have gone through the roof, we’ve not increased our prices but we’re taking a hit from suppliers
“We work to tight margins so we have to plan carefully to make sure the dish is perfect, an extra two raspberries on the plate is really 2,000 raspberries, who is going to pay for that?” “More and more these days the job of the head chef is about more than just cooking. You have to be the finance director, HR and training and there are targets that need to be met.” So what are Chef Marshall’s influences? How do he and his team come up with the innovative concoctions served up to guests? “We take the team out four times a year to a new restaurant or venue, partly as a thank you but also to have a look at what other people are doing and to look for ideas that we can make work for banqueting. “In terms of following trends, we have to be much more careful of legislation than in a restaurant setting, for example we couldn’t really serve a rare burger which I know a lot of outlets do. The rules are much tighter for hotel dining. “But trends are definitely changing, people don’t go out as much as they used to so they want the best when they do. Things like Deliveroo bring much more into your home, you can have much more than fast food now, you can get a top quality steak delivered to your door. My household would be lost
without it!” So what does a typical day look like for Chef Marshall and his team? According to him there’s no such thing as a typical week in hotel catering. “No two days are ever the same but on a typical week during the season we can be producing over 12,000 meals in banqueting alone, then on top of that you have the Podium restaurant, our private rooms and the staff canteen which caters for over 700 staff in the hotel which is a challenge in itself. “A head chef is only as good as the team
“Frozen food has got so much better in recent years, it is incredible how far it has come. The quality of some products is fantastic.”
around them and without that team we wouldn’t have the success we have.” “Take an event like the BFFF Dinner for example, when you have 1,000 guests at an event just putting it on a plate can take three hours plus all the preparation and ordering. We’d typically have 14 or 15 people working on an event like that with around 30 involved in the plating up process.” And finally, what does one of the country’s leading chef’s think about frozen food? “Frozen food has got so much better in recent years, it is incredible how far it has come. The quality of some products is fantastic. “I think the role for frozen food in foodservice depends on the product and the outlet – we use frozen prawns all the time for example because they’re truly excellent quality and the amount of preparation time saved in the kitchen is incredible. Having chefs shelling and peeling prawns for 1000 plates just simply isn’t realistic.”