You would not expect to find a catering academy tucked away in a quiet suburb in Centurion, but there is. In the grounds of the old manor house in the garden suburb of Hennopspark is the Prue Leith College of Food and Wine. This catering academy was established in direct response to the increased demand for training for the catering industry in South Africa. The philosophy behind the thinking of the College is that, in order to retain academic knowledge, that knowledge should be put into practice as soon as possible. To this end, at this catering academy in Centurion both academic and practical training are supplemented by introducing the students to the harsh realities of the workplace as early as possible.Students may be accepted into the Prue Leith College once they have passed their Matric examination – this must be at least at Standard Grade. They must also have reached the age of seventeen years. Once at the college, students will face eighteen months of rigorous training split into three semesters. As part of their training the students must report for their training and work experience as rostered. They work shifts – either day or evening, and will normally not exceed eight hours per day. They also have to complete between three and five hours’ homework a week, depending on the semester.
The college has its own 60-seat restaurant, the Odd Plate, in the grounds, and this is open to the public five nights a week. From quite early on in their first semester, students work in the restaurant either in the preparation, cooking or serving of the food. Senior students fill the more senior jobs of Maitre d’Hotel, Wine Waiter and Front of House. A 24-seater boma in the college is used to train students in the art of bush cooking and Pan African cuisine. The college also runs a series of short leadership courses. These team-building exercises are run under the guidance of various qualified chefs, and students are rostered to help out on these events and so gain valuable experience as well as exposure to the various styles of different chefs.
In 2005 the college trustees decided to start up a separate catering company, and Prue Leith Catering was the result. This catering company is situated a couple of kilometres from the college and has the most modern of industrial kitchens. Students are rostered to spend time working in the catering company kitchens in order to gain further valuable on-the-job experience. Prue Leith Catering is available to all types of corporate functions as well as private functions such as wedding parties, bar mitzvahs and so on. Catering Academy students from Centurion gain further experience during their second and third semesters when they are placed at selected lodges, hotels and restaurants not just throughout South Africa, but also as far afield as Dubai and Ireland. These placements usually last for eight weeks and are of invaluable experience to the students where they can see exactly how the catering industry works in situ.