Singita, School of Cooking – Changing Lives

Singita is taking its conservation program, the Singita School of Cooking, to the next level by way of a partnership with Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York. Young and talented female graduate Tsakane Khoza (TK) has traveled from a small village in South Africa to the United States to embark on a culinary journey as an intern at renowned chef Dan Barber’s New York restaurant, which is regarded as one of the best in the world.

Singita has always been committed to stimulating the local economy, with an aim to support the viability and growth of the community on the outskirts of Kruger National Park.  Supporting local communities through development initiatives that help to feed and educate the families that live in and around Singita’s properties in turns allows Singita to preserve the integrity of these wilderness areas and their wildlife.

The Singita School of Cooking (SSC) opened its doors in South Africa in 2007 with two ideas in mind: to increase the skills levels in lodge kitchens, and to provide sustainable opportunities for the surrounding communities. Today the SSC offers a rigorous, 12-month course that sees students drawn from local communities untying their brand-new knife rolls in March each year. Serving both Singita Lebombo and Singita Sweni Lodges, the program combines theory components in the cooking school, with intense practical training in lodge kitchens. In 2017 the school had 150 applicants for just nine positions.  As students graduate the program, some are offered spots in Singita’s kitchens, while others are recruited by lodges in the region. Celebrating a decade in existence, the Singita School of Cooking has seen 60 students having found new careers as professional chefs, and the current students are now gearing up for the big move to an exciting new facility at Singita Lebombo Lodge early in 2018. The new cooking school has been constructed in the style of a demonstration studio and is located between the dining area and the kitchen of Singita Lebombo, giving guests a chance to interact with students.  All training will be done by Singita chefs, and students will have the opportunity to cook for guests.

The SSC makes a real difference to the lives of each student and their families, by teaching these young people a lifelong skill that will provide an income to help support their immediate relatives as well as the wider community. The effect is social upliftment through inspiration and leadership, a thriving community and a new generation of skilled young people.

Talented young chef Tsakane Khoza (TK) is a prime example of the Singita School of Cooking’s efforts coming to life as intended. After completing the demanding professional cooking qualification at SSC, she joined the kitchen team at Singita Kruger National Park as a commis chef and, through hard work and determination, has been promoted through the ranks. In January 2016, she was taken under the wing of Liam Tomlin, award-winning Cape Town chef who has recently taken leadership in Singita’s new food concept.  TK traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, a huge move in itself, where she enhanced her skills and earned the respect of her peers with her positive attitude and eagerness to learn. Now, TK is living in New York and working as an intern for Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

Singita COO Mark Whitney says, “The Singita School of Cooking provides an opportunity to completely change the lives of young people from the rural communities near our lodges. TK’s internship with Blue Hill at Stone Barns will provide her with invaluable international experience in a highly acclaimed kitchen that she can bring back to the hospitality industry in South Africa. We are very grateful to Blue Hill for welcoming TK into their family and giving her this once in a lifetime opportunity.”

The impact of Singita’s community work is integral to the company’s 100-year conservation purpose to preserve and protect large areas of African wilderness for future generations. As of now, the various development projects underway in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania and the significant number of local employment opportunities offered by the lodges have an impact on an estimated 7,000 family members. The success of the Singita School of Cooking has now extended to Tanzania where Singita operates a second cooking school, now in its second year.

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