Tucked away in the heart of the picturesque garden suburb of Hennopspark in Centurion there is an International Chef’s College. Few people realize that it is there, but this small college has already made an impact on the culinary industry in South Africa. Centurion is a well-planned garden city that is situated halfway between Johannesburg and Pretoria. Tiny Barnetson and Graham Ledger started the college in 1997, and they approached Prue Leith, an internationally acclaimed culinary expert who had been decorated for her services to the catering industry in the United Kingdom in order to use her name and assistance. Prue had for many years admired the improving standards of South Africa’s game lodges and hotels and had recognized the shortage of good highly motivated staff from which the catering industry was suffering. We started the Prue Leith College of Food and Wine with the sole aim of providing the catering industry in South Africa with well turned-out and highly qualified culinary staff.
The basic philosophy of the college is that in order for a student to retain the knowledge he or she has gained on the academic side, that knowledge should be put into practice as early as possible. With this in mind students are exposed to the realities of the workplace as early as possible and under close professional supervision. Students are put to work in the college’s own 60-seat restaurant as early as their first or second week. Here they take orders and wait at table, they prepare and cook the meals as well as acting as Maître d’Hotel and wine waiter, all under close supervision. The restaurant, Prue Leith’s, has been awarded its Blaizon from the Chaine Des Rotisseurs and has been ranked in the top twenty restaurants in the country and the top ten restaurants in Gauteng by theBusiness Day.
Student chefs are accepted into the college only after they have obtained a pass in Matric – this must be at least standard grade, and have turned eighteen. The course, which lasts for eighteen months, is made up of three semesters of six months each, and starts in both January and July. The college has a comprehensive curriculum that includes not only cooking, but also kitchen organization and financial controls. During their third term students are placed out into selected hotels, restaurants and game lodges throughout South Africa and as far away as Ireland, where they are exposed to the realities and disciplines of the actual workplace. This visit lasts six months, and the experience learned here is invaluable. The experience gained by the students at this international chef’s college in Centurion is second to none. Towards the end of the course students are required to complete the Cape Wine Academy Certificate Course and have the opportunity of attending an optional tour to the wine lands of the Western Cape of South Africa.