“Margaritas are a classic cocktail,” says Hang Quang of KOTO’s class 35. “That everyone can enjoy, but I really like it because it has a story behind it.”
Hang is holding a bottle of Jose Cuervo in her right hand and a jigger in her left and is standing on a blue crate that once held Pepsi bottles but now raises Hang up above the bar.
“It’s about a man who invented the margarita for his lover,” she says although when pressed for more details she scratches her head.
“Isn’t that enough?”
The story Hang can’t remember is about a man named Danny Herra who, in Mexico, invented the cocktail to woo a showgirl named Marjorie King all the way back in the 1940s. It’s a long way from KOTO’s Tay Ho restaurant, both in geography and time, but a story that KOTO trainees are still told - knowing the giants on whose shoulders they stand is a big part of one day becoming giants themselves.
Hang tips the tequila into a shaker. She adds Triple Sec, lime juice, sugar syrup, and ice and then she caps it. Raising it high above her shoulder, Hang starts to shake.
Her face is taut. She is deep in concentration determined to make sure that she makes the perfect margarita... and she will. After one last assessment in April, Hang will graduate and join the workforce with a Certificate III in hospitality from Australia’s Box Hill TAFE.
This close to the end, Hang, has learned just about everything you can think of when it comes to managing a bar. And she’s learned, she says, from some of the best.
In particular, being taught by Pham Tien Tiep, one of Hanoi’s most well known mixologists, really got her excited. Hang says his advice and guidance was one of the highlights of her course.
That said, she also has a few tips herself.
“I like to only put salt on half of the glass,” she says. “Not everyone likes salt so if it’s only on one side they can choose to have it or not.”
Using lime juice, Hang wets half of the rim of the glass and flips it upside down into a plate of salt and then back the right way up. She puts the glass down on the bar and moves back to the shaker - the lid comes off and a strainer goes on effortlessly. Hang could not look more at home behind the bar.
That said, for curious souls like Hang there is more to working in hospitality than just mixing cocktails.
“Speaking English means that I can talk with customers from other places. I can make new friends from all over the world and learn about other cultures and countries.”
KOTO’s English curriculum is a big part of Hang’s course. English in Vietnam opens doors and with partners like Apollo English KOTO’s course is one of the best.
Hang wedges a slice of lime on the lip of the margarita glass and then fills it with the mix that Danny Herra made famous all those years ago.
Hang pushes it forward with the tips of her fingers and with it the sweet scent of citrus.
“There you are,” she says smiling.
Hang puts the bottles back on their shelves, she scrubs her utensils, and she packs away the blue Pepsi crate. One more perfect margarita made, one more margarita closer to graduation.
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