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Picasso was talking about painting when he said it is necessary to learn the rules like a professional before being able to break them like an artist. But, according to Sorya Sao, the rule applies to mixing cocktails as well.

At Fizz, the bar she co-founded in TTP Lane, Sorya welcomes guests with the kind of enthusiasm that lets you know her work is her passion. Behind the smile is a life’s work: late night shifts, sleeping during the day, endless hours as a back bar (bar assistant) to master the craft of making the signature cocktails that bring in the guests night after night.

“First, you need to learn the basic recipes, the classic recipes,” she says, reliving her time in Lyon, France, where a mentor taught her the story behind each cocktail. “Little by little, you start noticing patterns: basil matches with red fruits, for example.” You taste, you suggest, you alter, you observe, you experience, you notice what works and then you go back to the drawing board. “The biggest challenge is to adapt your taste so it can be enjoyable for everyone.”

Being at the bar is indeed a form of social work: your clients are your life. “It’s all about human beings. Listening, observing, feeling. It is a constant living painting.” A good mixologist is also a detective and a psychologist, observing body language in order to know if the client is enjoying what you’ve created. “The reaction is immediate,” Sorya says. “The feedback is instantaneous, which is very rewarding. This is very addictive because it is natural, and you make people happy.”

Sorya Sao

Here in Cambodia, another priority - and something that you can use to your advantage - is adapting to the local taste. “I grew up in France,” Sorya tells, “but thanks to my Khmer origins, I have been introduced very early to tastes and flavours you don’t usually find in France, like Kaffir leaves or green oranges.”

"Mixing the favourite flavours and fragrances of Cambodia into classic cocktail recipes is the biggest pleasure of culinary work," Sorya says. And another thrill of the job is passing on her skillset to local staff, who work with smiles as big as hers in the friendly environment she has created at Fizz. “It is essential. They spend a lot of time at work. We need to create for them a good atmosphere. If this is missing, there would be no results.”

Text by Hugo Roussel and photography by Julie Hedon for Cambodge Mag. Read the original article here.