A few years we had a vision. We had noticed how, with the rapid growth of the tourist industry in South Africa, there was an ever-increasing shortage of good, highly motivated staff. South Africa has long enjoyed excellent standards in her hotels, game lodges and restaurants, but there was a huge boost in the tourist trade after democratization in the country. On top of that, many culinary experts had left South Africa for Europe and Australia, leaving a vacuum in the industry. We decided that the only thing to do to help plug this gap was to start a chef’s academy for chef’s training in Centurion, and to this end in 1997 we founded the Prue Leith College of Food and Wine. The chef’s academy is situated in a quiet garden suburb in Centurion, halfway between Johannesburg and Pretoria and just a couple of minutes’ drive from the highway joining the two cities.
We realized that what visitors to South Africa wanted was simple, stylish food of excellent quality and of a South African flavour. In this respect the college’s on site restaurant specializes in freshly made dishes made from only the best of South African produce. The object of the chef’s academy is to encourage enthusiasm and to develop natural talent, and to feed that talent back into the industry once a student has graduated. Up to forty students are accepted per course making a maximum of 120 students at the college at any one time. Students work in the restaurant right from the start of their course, which lasts for eighteen months. They take orders, prepare, cook and serve food and even work as Maître d’Hotel and Wine waiter. During the third semester of the three semester course students are placed in top quality restaurants, game lodges and hotels throughout South Africa and even as far away as Ireland and Dubai for a period of six months. This enables them to get first hand “on the job” training before the completion of their course. There are several lessons outdoors in the college boma where students get practical training in African cuisine and outdoor Bush cooking. Students are expected to do between three and five hours’ homework a week.
During the course there are several visits by Prue and other well-known industry leaders, who lecture and give demonstrations in Indian, Thai and Japanese cooking, Health, Nutrition and Hygene as well as How to prepare for job interviews and Kitchen Planning. There is also an advisory panel that continually reviews the curriculum and the performance of the educators and keeps the chef’s academy abreast of international trends. Before graduating their chef’s training in Centurion all students must complete the Cape Wine Academy Certificate course, which occurs during their second term. Emphasis here is placed on how wines and different foods go together. A tour to the wine lands of the Western Cape and including trips to Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl is offered to students provided a minimum number take part.