I met Chef Kevin Marshall at a dinner party while visiting Orlando this past September. He is a friend of my Uncle Keith, and was gracious enough to share his culinary talents as our personal chef for the evening. As he prepared a scrumptious feast for us, I interviewed him about his diverse and fascinating career at Walt Disney World.
In June of 1989, he was a man fresh out of tech school. He applied at Walt Disney World, but soon learned there was a hiring freeze for positions he originally desired. Because he had previously managed a Wendy’s restaurant, he was offered a job in food and beverage at The Crystal Palace. As part of the culinary staff, he moved around to different positions, soon cooking alongside professional Disney chefs.
While working at the Crystal Palace, he and two other coworkers were asked to carve a 700 lb pumpkin for Halloween. They were told to carve and hand paint the ‘Blustery Day’ scene from Winnie the Pooh. It took two weeks of overtime and 90 man hours to complete this masterpiece. It was displayed outside the restaurant, surrounded by bales of hay to prevent guests from touching it. One day, a Cast Member saw a little boy ignoring the bales and and putting his hands on the carved image of Pooh. Originally thinking the boy was causing mischief, the Cast Member told the boy to refrain from touching the pumpkin. As it turns out, the little boy was blind. He never knew what Pooh and his friends looked like. From the carving, the boy was able to feel and learn the character shapes. It was his own personal braille pattern. Kevin said it made all his hard work truly worth it and is a memory that touches him to this day.
After 11 years at the Crystal Palace, Kevin accepted a new job at Shutters at Old Port Royale, located at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. However, he soon realized that unless he had the appropriate culinary training, he would not be considered a professional chef and therefore, could not be promoted. With his passion for cooking strong and fierce, he made the decision to attend culinary school. Kevin worked hard, going to school at night after a full days work at Shutters. Two years into the program, Kevin received a devastating blow. His father had passed away. Distraught by his loss, the fire inside burned out and he eventually dropped out of school.
Fortunately, the darkness was temporary, and the candle was ignited once again by Michele. The two met while performing in the Candlelight Processional and were married in June of 2003. Michele is also an employee of Walt Disney World. She has been there 15 years and works at Animal Kingdom as a manager overseeing the international students from Asia and Africa. Shortly after their marriage, Kevin decided to attend an intense 15 month program at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School with overwhelming successs. Not only did he earn straight A’s, but he also made the Presidents list. Following graduation, he applied for and completed a three month internship at Narcoossee’s in the Grand Floridian where he was evaluated daily by Disney staff. After the internship, he earned a permanent spot at the restaurant. This time, as a professional Disney chef.
Kevin had achieved one dream and reached for the stars with a new one: To start his own business as a personal chef. To obtain this new dream, he left Narcoossee’s in February 2005. He accepted a new job at Disney Vacation Club as a van driver and has been there ever since. He loves to entertain the guests he drives around with his Disney knowledge and impersonations of lovable Disney characters such as Goofy, Tigger, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and Mickey Mouse! (Naturally, I made him repeat those impressions, which were spot on.) Although a dramatic change in Disney careers, the two worlds tend to collide every once in a while. One day, Kevin picked up a family who had been coming to Disney World annually for ten years. They mentioned how years ago while dining at the Crystal Palace, one of the chefs made them a Tigger-shaped pancake. Every year since, they would ask for this Tigger pancake, but to no avail. Would you guess which chef created that pancake all those years ago? Kevin! It really is a small world after all!
After talking with Kevin, it is clear that he is a jack of all trades. Not only is he a talented chef with a delightful personality, but he is beautiful singer as well. For the past 21 years, he has taken part in the Candlelight Processional as a Cast Member performer. This show tells the Christmas story of Jesus Christ, beautifully represented through 15 songs, three of which are sung in a foreign language. Performances are three times a night and include a celebrity narrator. When I asked Kevin which celebrity was his favorite, he said James Avery (Or Uncle Phil for all you Fresh Prince fans). Kevin informed me that before every show, each celebrity has the option to stay in their dressing room until show time or come out beforehand to meet the Cast Members. James Avery not only shook hands with everyone, but actually remembered Kevin! He shook his hand and said, “Good to see you again. You’ve lost some weight, haven’t you?” The Candlelight Procession is held from November 28th to December 30th and is located at Epcot in the America Gardens Theatre.
I asked Kevin why he has continued working for Disney after 25 years with the company. He had several answers for me. First off, he enjoys the consistency of keeping the same hours every week. He appreciates the benefits and told me that when he made the decision to go to culinary school, Disney covered 75% of the cost as part of its tuition reimbursement program. He said he enjoys the flexibility to move around internally and most importantly, he feels so fortunate for the friends he has made along the way. He also said he enjoys Disney World MORE since becoming a Cast Member. He can go to his favorite park, Epcot, whenever he wishes and take a ride on his favorite attraction: Mission Space. Sounds like a pretty good gig to me!
Kevin is a man who exemplified the quote: “If you can dream it, you can do it” – Imagineer Tom Fitzgerald. He persevered and achieved yet another dream when he opened his own business, A Pampered Palate. As a Personal Chef, he creates scrumptious meals for events such as reunions, birthdays, and dinner parties. When I asked him how he feels about being a chef he said, “Food affects every aspect of our lives. Everyone who eats my food, I want them to remember that meal.” After tasting his delectable dishes I can tell you, it was a meal I won’t soon forget.
How about it? Have you tried Kevin’s Tigger pancakes? Will you go to the Candlelight Processional this year? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @AngelaDahlgren!