Tucked away in the pleasant garden suburb of Hennopspark, midway between Pretoria and Johannesburg, you will find the Prue Leith Food and Wine College. This is one of the few training establishments that can be identified as a fine dining college in the Johannesburg area. But how do you describe fine dining? The phrase is used to describe the experience one has when dining at a specific restaurant. It does not describe just the presentation of the food, though that is, of course, an important part of the whole, which may include the location of the restaurant, the view from its windows, the interior, which is probably best described as elegant, the menu and the service. Spaghetti Bolognaise, even though served at the finest of restaurants, can hardly be called Fine Dining, and by the same token neither can a cordon bleu meal served by a shopping mall takeaway. It would be fair to say that most of the restaurants that describe themselves as being fine dining serve what is known as nouveau cuisine food.
We started the college in 1997, and Prue Leith was kind enough to allow us to use her name and assistance. Prue Leith is a world-renowned culinary expert decorated for her dedication and service to the catering industry in the United Kingdom. We decided to start a college for fine food after identifying a niche in the South African catering industry. We had for many years admired the improving standards of catering in South Africa’s game lodges, hotels and restaurants, but often heard from their owners of the difficulty in obtaining expert and highly motivated staff. With this in mind, and realizing that foreign tourists looked for simple, stylish food of exceptional quality and with a South African flavour, we opened the college.
Students are accepted into the college after obtaining the minimum of a standard grade pass in Matric, and must be at least eighteen years old. The course lasts eighteen months and is extremely comprehensive. It not only covers cooking, but also includes such subjects as reservations, billing, finance and management. The course is divided into three terms and starts in January and July of each year. Students spend six months during term 3 getting practical catering experience in some of South Africa’s finest game lodges, restaurants and hotels, an essential part of their training. In addition the Cape Wine Academy Certificate course is included as an integral part of their training and the college also offers an optional wine tour to the wine lands of the Western Cape.
Attached to this fine dining college is their own restaurant, Prue Leith’s. Prue Leith’s is a true fine dining restaurant that seats a maximum of sixty people. It is open four nights a week, Wednesday to Saturday, and is entirely staffed by students of the college supervised by professional staff. Prue Leith’s is listed among the top twenty of South African restaurants and the top ten in Gauteng. The culinary standard set by this restaurant speaks highly of the standard of training at this fine dining college.