Throughout the length and breadth of South Africa there are establishments that specialize in catering training. One of these training establishments is situated in the small suburb of Hennopspark, part of the garden city of Centurion, which is midway between Johannesburg and Pretoria. This is the Prue Leith College of Catering, to which students flock from all over the country. The college is one of the country’s top establishments for catering training, and its graduates are scattered around the globe in top restaurants and hotels.
Courses at the Prue Leith College last for eighteen months and commence in January and July of each year. A maximum of forty students can be accepted onto each course, so that there are no more than 120 students enrolled at the school at any one time. The minimum entry age for the catering training course is eighteen, and applicants need at least a Standard Grade pass in Matric in order to apply for enrollment. Highly qualified teachers, all of whom have wide experience in the catering industry, staff the college. In addition there are several visits each semester by recognized leaders of the industry who give regular talks or demonstrations on a wide variety of culinary and other subjects relevant to the course. There is also an advisory panel of world-renowned chefs who regularly review the school’s curriculum and the performance of both teachers and students.
The tourist industry in South Africa and around the world is booming, and with it there is a shortage of culinary experts in the form of chefs and cooks. With this in mind the Prue Leith School trains its students with this market in mind. The catering course has been planned to have an accent on a South African flavour, and the School’s own restaurant serves dishes created from the best of South African produce. All students get hands-on experience in the award-winning on-site restaurant, Prue Leith’s, not only in the preparation of the fine dishes that are served there, but also as waiters, front of house and serving wine – in fact in all aspects of the running of a restaurant. Students are organized into shifts, which may be either day or night shifts of up to eight hours. In addition students are expected to complete between three and five hours’ homework each week. In the third semester or the course students are sent out into the field for six months. This may be at a hotel, game lodge or restaurant, and does not necessarily have to be in South Africa.
The college has its own fine dining catering company with kitchens located some 2½ kilometres from the school, and students spend valuable time here learning about this particular aspect of the industry. It is important to realize that catering training does not take place merely in the kitchen, but encompasses a much wider variety of subjects, and these include function catering with all of the associated problems such as special dietary requests, vegetarians meals and so on, and the planning and budgeting that go with it.