KOTO – Know One Teach One – Tracey Lister

Culinary chances for Vietnamese street kids

By Louise Johnson
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Tracey Lister, author of Koto - a culinary journey through Vietnam

Tracey Lister, author of Koto - a culinary journey through Vietnam

Tracey Lister, author of Koto, and her family
Tracey Lister, author of Koto, and graduates at the 2008 graduation
Koto - A culinary Journey through Vietnam


Melbourne chef Tracey Lister and her husband Andreas Pohl fell in love with Vietnam and the decision to live there led to their involvement in an amazing project to help the street kids of Hanoi, and a cookbook celebrating the culinary diversity of the country.

Three years before Jamie Oliver dragged disadvantaged British youth through his first turbulent hospitality training program for the Fifteen Foundation, Vietnamese-Australian Jimmy Pham opened the doors on a small sandwich shop in Hanoi intent on providing training and employment for a group of former street kids. The KOTO program, which stands for Know One, Teach One, is simple and powerful – trainees are taught to help other young people who face the same problems they once did.

Melbourne chef Tracey Lister became involved when her husband, journalist Andreas Pohl, took an AusAid position in Hanoi in 2000. Tracey didn’t want to work in an international hotel and was looking for something different to be involved in.

“I wanted to contribute in some way and I heard what Jimmy was doing and thought that sounded really exciting, so I tracked him down and met with him and he told me about his vision. He had a small, nine seater sandwich bar at that stage and he wanted to open up a larger restaurant and formalise the training.  Five or six months later we opened an 80 seater restaurant in Hanoi just across the road from the temple of literature which is one of the main cultural sites in Hanoi,” she says.

Just 12 months ago they expanded again, into the building next door, and now there are four levels of restaurants, bars and function facilities all serviced by the 100 trainees in the program at any given time.

“The menu is International and Vietnamese, obviously there’s a very strong Vietnamese component to the menu, but then also international food like pasta and sandwiches. The kids need to have training in the preparation of western food as part of the course and also, to get work in international hotels, they need to know how to prepare short crust pastry and make bread and clean down a fillet of beef so we need to incorporate all of that into the menu and so it’s part of the training that’s given,” says Tracey.

Koto’s program really starts with the basics. Tracey says many of the kids have been on the streets for some time and have never used things like a kitchen sink, a plug, a can opener or seen a pair of tongs. All of these items have to be introduced before they move on to food processors and coffee machines.

“The training course is for two years and they receive a training allowance during that time which includes housing, healthcare, uniforms and meals. Once they're at Koto they're not on the streets anymore. The whole idea of giving them a training allowance is that they're not going to be tempted to go back on the streets - they can live on that money and most of them are sending money back to their families to keep their younger siblings in school. Often it’s the older kids that come into Hanoi from the provinces to earn money and end up on the streets.”

The drop-out rate is very low, and there is a 100 percent placement of graduates into employment. “There's not really many opportunities in Vietnam so once the kids get an opportunity they don't want to mess it up. They're being accepted by the Hilton Hotel, the Metropole, the Intercontinental so the quality of the training is quite high. It's more than just a feel good project,” she says.

The cookbook, Koto, a culinary journey through Vietnam, is project born from a photographic fundraiser for Koto in 2003. Photographer Michael Fountoulakis donated images to an exhibition whose proceeds went into the project and he and Tracey devised the theme for a cookbook, released by Hardie Grant Books in October 2008. Andreas provided the cultural and travel text for the book, which explores the regions of Vietnam from the Northern Highlands to Mekong Delta. The authors' royalties from sales all go back into the Koto charity.

Now based permanently in Hanoi, Tracey plans to open a cooking school teaching Vietnamese cooking to tourists and hopefully employing Koto graduates – “if I can snap any up!”


KOTO, a culinary journey through Vietnam is published by Hardie Grant Books, October 2008. RRP A$45.00

VisitVineyards.com and Winepros Archive members and subscribers can buy KOTO online at a 12.5% discount through our book partners, Seekbooks (postage extra). The authors' royalties from sales all go back into the Koto charity.


  • Vietnam - all (VN)

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