Nurturing and Educating Budding Chefs in Local African Communities

by Sandy Salle on July 29, 2011

For many young adults in South Africa, finding employment and education are extremely tough to come by—mostly because the parents of these youths lack sufficient funds to educate their children. But The Singita School of Cooking is opening new doors and presenting endless opportunities for young adults who are determined and motivated to start a career in the hospitality and culinary industry.

We were so inspired by The Singita School of Cooking’s tremendous efforts, that we requested an interview with Verrity Simons, Village Manager & Community Development Officer for Singita Kruger National Park and the overseer for The Singita School of Cooking.

In this exciting interview, Verrity shares with us some of the details of the school and how it helps a selected handful of young adults in the local villages embrace exceptional opportunities.

See below for our interview (NOTE: All images are courtesy of Verrity Simons and Singita Kruger National Park):

1. Last September The Singita School of Cooking interviewed 300 young people and accepted just 8 candidates. What types of individuals are candidates for The Singita School of Cooking and how do you select students?

Initially we send out flyers to the local communities to let the young people know we are taking on new students. Singita also works alongside KNP social ecologists to advertise the interview date. The interview process has two parts. A team of eight Singita staff members, three chefs, myself, the HR manager, and two others participated in the interview. Four of the eight members of staff are fluent in Shangaan (local language) to be able to translate, if necessary.

The Singita staff paired up, rolled up our sleeves, and began to interview the candidates. Firstly, candidates needed to meet the minimum requirements; the candidates were all asked the same questions. We were looking for people who really wanted to become chefs and expressed a passion for food. In addition, we’re looking for young people who possess personalities that shine.

The second part of the interview takes place after we have selected 20 possible candidates from the applicant selection. The second stage interview takes place in the school’s kitchen, based at Singita’s staff village in the Kruger National Park. The applicants take a literacy and numeracy test and take part in a practical cook off. From here, we select the eight students based on team work, practical skills, and their test results.

South Africa cooking school

The Singita School of Cooking is run by a Singita Chef Skills Trainer, Oriel Mbowane. Practical training is obtained in the Singita staff kitchen with additional experience being gained in the lodge kitchens. As part of their training, the students have a placement in the lodge kitchens, experiencing all the different sections. There is no cost for the students for the training.


Singita School of Cooking is looking for capable and confident people with a real passion in cooking and in a career in the hospitality industry as a chef.

Requirements are as follows for all applicants:

  • Have a strong interest in cooking and a career as a chef
  • Be between 18 and 29 years of age
  • From the  Mhlambo Ndlopfu Forum / Mnisi Trust area
  • Have a good pass at matric / grade 12 level
  • Have a minimum of a grade 10 mathematics
  • Have good communication skills
  • Have strong English reading and writing skills
  • Dedicated, willing to learn, flexible, hard working, and adventurous

Applicants who are interested in this training and career opportunity should bring a CV, as well as a 250 – 300 words description of their background and reason for wanting to join the School.

Students who are accepted into the program will receive:

  • All necessary theoretical and practical training and materials
  • Meals during training hours
  • Chefs uniforms, as well as necessary tools and equipment
  • Daily transport to and from Hluvukani
  • A Singita School of Cooking certificate in Professional Cookery
  • Accredited level 4NQF4

2. What benefits do students receive from The Singita School of Cooking? Does the community also receive benefits from the operations of the school?

The Singita School of Cooking trains at least eight unemployed young people from the Ehlanzeni area. The area suffers from a lack of skilled workers particularly in the field of professional cookery. The Mhlambo Ndlopfu Forum represents Manyeleti villages, which are part of Ehlanzeni in support of this community project. They also recognize and consider this project to be one of the most important community projects as it provides vocational training, which is very much needed.

Once trained, the students have a much greater opportunity of employment as the communities are situated around the Kruger National Park—with primary employment in hospitality. Eighty-six percent of previous learners are in employment in the field of professional cookery and 42% are directly employed by Singita.

Chef positions and similar positions are considered to be in short supply because it is difficult to find people within the local communities with the right skills required to fulfill the job specification at Singita. The aim of the program is to develop local talent directly from our nearest communities to avoid recruiting further afield. Sixty-eight percent of our current employees are recruited directly from Manyeleti, which is part of the Ehlanzeni area, Mpumalanga.

As a core part of its neighbor outreach program, Singita runs The Singita School of Cooking. The aim of this school is to give talented youths, from the Mhlambo Ndlopfu Forum / Mnisi Trust area, the opportunity to start their careers as a chef. Completion of this 18-month program enables a student to take up entry level positions, as a Commis Chef, in the kitchen of a hotel or restaurant; or to start their own catering businesses.


3. What does a student’s typical year look like at The Singita School of Cooking? Specifically, what do they learn and how can they use their skills in the real world?

The students have a Singita School of Cooking manual created by our Senior Sous Chef at Sweni. The manual is a mix of theory and practical tasks. The students cover different food and product knowledge in each section. The students use their theory-based learning in their cooking.

The students are taught from the beginning about time keeping, presentation, hygiene, and communication skills. The kitchen is English speaking (the students’ primary language is Shangaan) so that students can improve confidence in communicating in English. All departments provide training sessions to the students, for example training on telephonic skills, dietary requirements, front of house staff roles, and the role of an HR manager within a company. After the students have finished training, these new found skills and knowledge assist and prepare students to take part in lodge activities.

The students gain their basic skills from preparing food for the staff. In the afternoons, the students have theory classes.

If the students have passed the expected skills levels after one year, they will have a practical placement in other lodge kitchens.

The students also receive greater variety and more in-depth knowledge and practical skills. (e.g. Fruit knowledge: how to use the fruit, even to the extent of making fruit chutney if the fruit is past it’s best.)

Don’t miss our next blog post, which features interviews with some of the students at The Singita School of Cooking!

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