If you’re looking for a way to give back while you travel in Vietnam, take a cooking class at Know One, Teach One (KOTO)….
If you’re looking for a way to give back while you travel in Vietnam, take a cooking class at Know One, Teach One (KOTO). I visited the Hanoi restaurant and learned about the excellent work they do supporting at-risk kids. The organisation was established over 20 years ago by Jimmy Pham, who was born in Vietnam but grew up in Sydney. On a trip to HCMC as an adult, he met some street kids who had blisters on their legs from bathing near an open sewer. Right there and then, he decided to set up an organisation to provide them with accommodation, food, healthcare and most crucially – job skills.
KOTO takes on around 200 students aged 16-22 each year from disadvantaged backgrounds and sends them to hospitality school in Hanoi to learn about everything from bartending to becoming a barista or chef. The idea is that at the end of the two-year training scheme, they’ll be able to get a job in the industry and support themselves for life.
The restaurant in Hanoi (there’s another branch in HCMC) is beautiful, situated right near the Temple of Literature with a delicious range of Vietnamese food. Each menu has a different trainee story on it, including their picture or a piece of art they’ve created. Many of the students have ethnic backgrounds and come from rural areas of Vietnam.
The KOTO cooking class is brilliant, it starts with a briefing from the chef about KOTO’s mission and then you get taken to a market to get the ingredients for the traditional Vietnamese dishes you’ll be making. This gives you a real taste of the sights and smells of a market, with people bartering over piles of green, earthy vegetables and tropical fruit. You can choose to make a range of dishes with gluten-free and vegan options available, from green papaya salad to spring rolls and BBQ pork prepared two ways with fresh noodles.
Back at the restaurant, the chef instructs you step by step while you’re cooking. You also get to chat with the KOTO trainees, who’ll share their stories while you work and help you with your kitchen skills. I learned that all the KOTO kids this year are going up to Sapa to cook around 200 bowls of pho for the local tribes, taking stationery and jumpers to support the poorer communities. It was amazing to hear how they’re passing the help they received on to others. At the end of the session, you get to eat all of your delicious creations and receive a recipe card so you can recreate them at home.