Most corporate bodies and even smaller organizations are going to face the question of event catering from time to time. Whether or not the organization has its own catering division, it is unlikely that they are prepared for some of the big events that come along every now and again. But there are companies out there that specialize in event catering and can be called upon to cater for almost any function. This could be anything from a wedding reception to a formal dinner party of any size between six and six hundred guests – possibly even bigger. One of the newer companies in the event catering scene is the Prue Leith Catering Company. Prue Leith Catering is a recently started branch of the Prue Leith College of Food and Wine. The college sits in the grounds of an old manor house tucked away in the garden suburb of Hennopspark, halfway between Johannesburg and Pretoria. The Prue Leith College has been running since 1996, when it was opened in Centurion. At the time of its opening there was a deficiency of good, well-motivated and highly experienced catering staff throughout the industry. This had come about with the huge boost to the tourist trade after the lifting of economic sanctions against the South Africa. The college was started in order to graduate catering staff who, in particular, could produce simple food of exceptional quality with a South African flavour. Graduates of the Prue Leith College are qualified in cooking, restaurant service, wine, kitchen management and financial controls.
In order to be considered for acceptance into the college, prospective students must firstly have passed their Matric examinations with at least a standard grade pass and have reached the age of eighteen. With these qualifications they may be accepted for an interview, at which time they must complete a questionnaire. The catering course lasts for eighteen months, and is split into three semesters of six months each. One of the underlying philosophies of the college trustees is that in order for a student to retain academic knowledge, that knowledge should be put into practice as soon as possible. To this end, students are subjected to extensive exposure to the actual workplace under close professional supervision at as early a date as possible.
From quite early on students are rostered into either a day or an evening shift. During the latter they work in the college’s own restaurant, Prue Leith’s. The restaurant is situated in the college grounds and students take table orders, prepare and cook the meals, serve at table and can also serve as the Maître d’Hotel, Wine Steward or Front of House. But this is not the only place where the students get hands-on experience. They are also to be found working for the Catering Company on event catering. They may either be in the industrial kitchens or actually working at an event. They also spend time at the college boma, where they learn all about bush cooking and Pan African cuisine. The last term of the course will find students working at a first class establishment that may be almost anywhere in the world. Although most of the venues are in South Africa, others include the Sheraton in Dubai and the Old Bull Hotel in the heart of the Cotswolds in England.