Choosing chef career may seem a little strange to some people, but in today’s modern world a chef is an extremely important position. The truth is that a good chef is a rare find, and to become a chef can be an extremely rewarding career. Some years ago there was an acute shortage of highly motivated and expert staff in the South African catering industry. Many of the owners of the country’s game lodges, hotels and restaurants complained at the time of this shortage, and as a result of this a new training establishment was founded in Gauteng. Following a chef career was soon to become a whole lot easier for many young people in South Africa.
Tiny Barnetson and Graham Ledger started the Prue Leith College of Food and Wine in 1996. The ambition of the College was and is to encourage enthusiasm and to develop natural talent. In fact the trustees of the College expect their graduates to be at the top of their profession within a few years of graduation. The College is situated in a quiet garden suburb in Centurion and is in the grounds of an old manor house. It is almost exactly half way between Pretoria and Johannesburg. To be accepted into the College a student has to have reached the age of eighteen and must have passed the Matric examination at least at Standard Grade. They must also fill out a comprehensive questionnaire and sit an interview board.
Chef courses at the College last for eighteen months, starting twice a year in January and July. The course is split into three semesters of six months each. It is the belief of the trustees that students should put their academic training into practice as soon as possible in order to retain that knowledge. The academic training is substantial, but students find themselves thrown in at the deep end when they are put on the evening shift in Prue Leith’s, the College’s own restaurant, very early on in their first semester. In the restaurant, which is open five nights a week, they are expected to take orders, to prepare, cook and serve meals, and to act as Wine Waiter, Front of House or Maître d’Hotel. Further practical experience is gained when, during their final semester, they are placed in selected top class hotels, restaurants or game lodges for a period of six months. Practical experience in Pan African cuisine and bush cooking is gained in the 24-seat boma in the College grounds.
During their eighteen months at the college, many recognized catering industry leaders are invited to give regular demonstrations or talks at the College. The subjects vary but include Indian, Thai and Chinese cooking, icing, breads and pastries and even how to prepare Curriculum Vitae and to prepare for a job interview. Before graduation all students are required to complete the Cape Wine Academy Certificate course in which emphasis is placed on the marriage of food and wine. After graduating from the College students are all set to become a chef career anywhere in the world.