The Singita School of Cooking was established in 2007 at the staff village surrounding Singita Lebombo concession to help with vocational development in culinary skill among the disadvantaged young of the neighboring Kruger community.
On a clear winter’s day we drove out with Singita Lebombo’s Head Chef Archie Maclean to the staff village in Kruger. A campsite of little housings once used by the South African military on the outskirts of the game-rich Satara environ, prior to the building of the eco-luxury lodges of Singita Lebombo and Sweni in the government-leased private Singita concession. Guides jogged on the natural red-dirt avenues, quintessential to Kruger, alongside little stone cottages with verandahs occupied by potted flowers and the occasional hammock providing a homey backdrop as the staff’s homes. A few members with a day off lounged watching westerns at the ‘local pub’, a soccer pitch and a humble pool with barbecue grounds completed the colorful village. At the village’s hearth was the kitchen that housed the Singita School of Cooking and as we entered, bustling students skimmed, chopped and baked, pausing with wide grins to say “Welcome to our home”.
A year ago, Lucien Green, the Senior Training and Development Chef at Fifteen – Jamie Oliver’s Apprenticeship Program – came to the Singita School of Cooking and supported its growing set of students with a wealth of new culinary skills, prize-winning teamwork and competitive know-how to enable them to apply for a Commis Chef position in any professional kitchen – be it a restaurant in Cape Town or a safari lodge in the vast South African bushland, perhaps even someday their own abode in the heart of the communities they grew up in. Each day of Lucien Green’s master classes was action-packed as the two student teams inspired high-energy to win top prizes. The model of London’s Fifteen restaurant apprentice program resonates deeply with Singita’s community school in the Kruger region; In the early 90s Jamie Oliver was struck by the idea of cooking as a potential trade for unemployed youth – specifically those who had fallen out of mainstream education and were in need of a fresh new start in life. Oliver recruited 15 young apprentices to be trained by a team of 25 mentor-chefs in professional cooking at the newly-established Fifteen restaurant whereby all funds from the business would fund the continuation of the program.
“My charity aims to inspire people to reconnect with food. It’s all about raising awareness and individual responsibility, resuscitating dying food culture around the world and, ultimately, keeping cooking skills alive. I set up Fifteen because I believe young people have untapped talents, often hidden by problems in their home lives. These talents can be freed by a passion for good food and meaningful hard work…”
– Jamie Oliver, restaurateur, star cook of BBC series The Naked Chef and founder of the Fifteen charity restaurant.
What does the Singita School of Cooking entail?
A creative 18-month training program that offers passionate and committed youth in rural communities with a true interest in cooking a unique opportunity to train as aspiring chefs and practice their skill under the professional kitchens of the award-winning luxury safari lodges at Singita Lebombo concession, in the hope that someday these shining young talents may find life-long prospects in employment and even aspire to have their own small-business venture in the hospitality industry.
“In remote, rural areas equipping even one person with a good job and sound prospects, has a burgeoning effect on members of their immediate family, as well as the broader community. Besides providing a much-needed income, these young people also provide inspiration, energy and leadership to their peers in under-developed areas”
– Caroline Burke, Singita Sales Manager and former General Manager at Singita Lebombo concession.
Out of 800 or so applicants 3 lucky youths qualified in the interviewing for the first set of students. Oriel Mbowane, previous Sous chef at Singita Sweni Lodge, is the Chef Skills Developer at the Singita School of Cooking. The students graduate with a 4 Professional Cookery qualification and go on to attend quarterly 2-week blocks of formal practice overseen in the Singita Lebombo kitchens. Each year 8 to 10 students are selected as part of extensive interviews that determine a strong willingness to commit to training in culinary skills and actual cook-offs to judge capacity for developmental skills.
How you can help.
As part of the lodges symbiotic relation in the balance of wildlife and community, and responsible tourism that benefits and sustains both, this community development initiative not only trains aspiring youths from these small villages to pursue a golden dream but has also helped transform them in attaining heart-warming successes and employment in the Singita family. Jointly funded by the Singita group and limited grants from the South African government, the program provides for chef uniforms, essential kitchen equipment, materials, accommodation and transport back and forth from the Kruger school to ensure support for daily attendance.
It costs the program $8000 per year for one student scholarship. Since its inception in 2007, over 30 students have graduated from the Singita School of Cooking and a large number are integrally employed in the Singita kitchens.
A really rewarding way for our guests to become involved in this very worthy, life-long skills community project for South Africa’s youth residing in the rural wilderness where vocational opportunities and future prospects are scarce without the initiative of responsible private endeavors such as these.