If I wanted to take Chinese cooking classes, how on Earth would I go about it? Good question! An easy answer would be to find a Chinese cooking college, but, of course, there are not too many of those in South Africa. However, there is an excellent cooking college halfway between Pretoria and Johannesburg that includes Chinese cooking classes as part of their curriculum. That is the Prue Leith College of Food and Wine. The Prue Leith College is set in the grounds of an old manor house in Hennopspark, a garden suburb set in the middle of Centurion. This college has been open since 1996 and is the creation of Tiny Barnetson and Graham Ledger, a couple of Gauteng businessmen who had the vision of being able to see a blatant need in the South African catering industry at the time.
The Prue Leith College runs two major courses in parallel every year, starting in January and July. The courses last for eighteen months over three six-month semesters. In order to attend one of these courses you will have had to have passed Matric at standard grade and to have reached eighteen years of age. Before being accepted into the college it is also necessary to attend an interview and to complete a questionnaire. Once accepted for training students must report for classes and work experience as rostered. They will be expected to work shifts, which may be either a day shift or an evening shift. The reason for the evening shift is that the College has its own restaurant in the college grounds, Prue Leith’s, which is open to the public five nights a week. Students either work in the restaurant, serving at table and taking orders, or in the kitchens, where they prepare and cook the food. The Maître d’Hotel, Wine Waiter and Front of House jobs are given to more senior and experienced students. Students also gain valuable experience in Pan African cuisine and the art of bush cooking in the college’s 24-seater boma, also in the grounds.
Further valuable experience is gained during the students’ third semester, when students are placed at selected game lodges, hotels and restaurants throughout South Africa and overseas. This placement takes up most of the students’ third semester. Valuable experience is also gained in the college’s boma. Situated in the manor house grounds and seating 24 persons, this is where the students get hands on practice in bush cooking and Pan African cuisine. Considerable time is also spent working hands-on in Prue Leith Catering, the college’s own catering company, which was added to the umbrella of the trust in 2006 and is situated about two kilometres from the college grounds.
Recognized catering industry leaders are invited to lecture or give demonstrations at the college from time to time. Their subjects include Indian and Thai cuisine, Chinese cooking classes, and specialized lectures on the preparation of curriculum vitae and how to prepare for a job interview and so on.