Marshall Orton arrived in New York for the biggest job of his life, on September 11, 2001, when hijackings took place. Orton, who had just been appointed as executive Chef of one of the Accor group’s flagship hotels, the Sofitel New York, was confined to the hotel with visiting French Chef Paul Bocuse. No-one in New York could go anywhere for three days. It was really like a war zone. Orton went from a very relaxed environment in Asia to a very tough environment that was 24/7 rock n roll.
Queensland, where Orton has been executive Chef of the Sofitel Brisbane , must seem like a picnic in comparison. The Sofitel New York had been open only nine months when Orton was given the task of bringing their food and beverage operation up to a standard befitting a flagship property. According to Orton, Sofitel really wanted to put themselves on the map. It was a challenge which has to be dealt with quite a lot of conflict in the kitchen in the early stages. It took him a year to get the staff to understand where he was coming from before they could start pushing the envelope. If people can do it in New York, they can do it anywhere in the world. He learnt how to be a much more rounded chef.
New York was a career highlight for the Perth boy who grew up with a love of food inspired by his grandfather, who had been a high-ranking police officer in India. Orton’s grand father had a lot of chefs working for him and would go and watch how they would make curries. On his grandfather’s retirement in Australia, his grandfather was always cooking and Orton was always intrigued to see what his grandfather was making. It left an indelible impression on Orton who went on to study home economics at school, found that he was good at it, and embarked on an apprenticeship at Wellingtons, a BYO restaurant in Perth.
After five years at Wellingtons, Orton knew that he had to expand his horizons and get some entrepreneurial experience. He was introduced to the hotel business at Perth’s Ansett International Hotel where all the stars stayed. It was cutting edge. Orton went in as a commis (chef) and he was very lucky. They had an Austrian executive chef, an Austrian sous chef, a Swiss chef de cuisine, a Swiss pastry chef and an Indian cold larder chef. It was a colourful kitchen and it was such an explosion of culinary treats.
The executive chef there, Chris Taylor, convinced Orton to head to London, where he landed a job at the London Hilton. Not only did this see him cooking for royalty, but the kitchens were another melting pot of cultures. It was another push in the right direction. Orton was put into open their French brasserie then he was transferred to the Vienna Hilton, a one Michelin-star restaurant. After one and a half years in Vienna, Orton moved back to Australia and spent three years at the Radisson in Perth, followed by two years as executive sous chef at the Radisson Cairns. He subsequently opened the Reef Hotel Casino in Cairns. It was out of this world. It was no expense spared. They wanted to put themselves on the map very early. It was a very good move for Orton because it gave him a lot of international exposure.
Orton landed his first executive chef role at the Grand Mirage in Nusa Dua, Bali. During his time there a currency dive forced him to learn how to be creative when ingredients like gelatine and food colourings were hard to come by. Orton realised that he could make everything himself. It was an amazing experience for him. From there, he went to the Marco Polo Hotel in Singapore, “a culinary feast”. He was in Singapore for about a year when he got a call from China asking him if he would open the Novotel in Shanghai (Pudong). Thus it was that he joined Accor in 1998.
Orton got a concrete block with no windows and took it through to a soft opening with 20 food and beverage outlets and 320 staff. It was a showcase of what Novotel could be. They always had VIPs coming in. It was a very strategic hotel for the company. His achievements were recognised when two years later he was transferred to the Sofitel New York. Since Orton’s return to Australia with his wife and two New York-born children, he has wasted no time in putting his stamp on the Sofitel Brisbane’s food and beverage operation. Formerly the Sheraton, the hotel has not only had a much-needed facelift but Orton has worked hard to raise the standard of the food and beverage operation to a Sofitel level. He has tweaked the buffets so that they have smaller, lighter dishes, introduced more branding of ingredients, and begun sourcing organic products.
Orton wants people to understand that they are there to deliver quality and consistency. He really believes that organics are going to develop in the future. They have got an organic section in their breakfast buffet and that’s really a first for a hotel. Even the room service menu has a page of seasonal dishes that changes regularly, something rarely seen on room service menus. Menus have taken on a more Queensland feel, with the inclusion of ingredients such as Hervey Bay scallops and Mungalli Creek biodynamic yoghurt from Millaa Millaa in north Queensland.
Orton’s passion in the kitchen is accompanied by an upgrading of the hotel’s food and beverage outlets, including Sidewalk cafe, Chez — a wood fire pizza oven restaurant and a new executive lounge on the 34th floor. He is delighted with the produce he has found in Queensland, and the enthusiasm of their chefs. Brisbane has got some fantastic products. Their suppliers are very meticulous and he is very meticulous. Queensland’s got some great young chefs. They have got some stars (at the hotel) in the making, without a doubt. He will develop them to their full potential. He will try to push them up and give them the opportunities he had.