A few years ago the catering business in South Africa was going through something of a crisis. South Africa has long been a world leader in the standard of its hotels, restaurants and game lodges, but there always seemed to be a shortage of good staff. Not just any staff, but well-motivated and expert staff – staff that could be relied upon. Tiny Barnetson and Graham Ledger saw this shortage in the catering business as an opportunity to breach the gap by starting up a new catering college. They opened the Prue Leith College of Food and Wine in the grounds of an old manor house set in the picturesque small garden suburb of Hennopspark in Centurion. The college is situated just a couple of kilometres from the N14 highway between Johannesburg and Pretoria.
In order to enter the college, students must have completed their schooling up to Matric and must have achieved at least a standard grade pass at Matric. They must be at least eighteen years old and have to attend an interview at which they will be expected to fill out a questionnaire. Once accepted into the college students must report for training and practical work experience as directed by the college staff. Work may be either a day or an evening shift and is normally not more than eight hours per day. The college holds two courses each year, each of which lasts for eighteen months split over three semesters. There is a maximum number of students per course of forty, so no more than 120 students are at the college at any one time.
The reason for the evening shifts is that the college has its own restaurant, Prue Leith’s, on the premises, and this is one of the places where students gain valuable work experience. They take orders, prepare, cook and serve the meals, and fill the positions of wine steward, Maître d’Hotel and Front of House, all under professional supervision. The restaurant, Prue Leith’s, has been awarded its Blaizon from the Chaine Des Rotisseurs and has been ranked in the top twenty restaurants in the country and the top ten restaurants in Gauteng by the Business Day. The college has also recently opened a catering company with its offices and kitchens just a couple of kilometres away. This is another place where students gain valuable experience in the workplace. Exposure to Pan African cuisine and bush cooking takes place in the college’s 24-seat boma. Further exposure to the catering business takes place when, during their third term, students are placed out into selected hotels, restaurants and game lodges throughout South Africa and as far away as Ireland, where they are exposed to the realities and disciplines of the actual workplace. This visit lasts six months, and the experience learned here is invaluable.
Students are required to complete the Cape Wine Academy Certificate Course during their sojourn at the college in order to graduate. By the time they have completed the course at the college, students are ready to enter any catering business and take with them a sound background and knowledge of the industry.