Nina Swan-Kohler believes in faith and food

Cooking classes cultivate confidence in the kitchen

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ROBINS — When she was 19, Nina Swan-Kohler nearly died.

Her 1967 Chevy Impala had a malfunctioning accelerator and one day, on her way home, her pedal stuck.

On a winding road in her hometown of Pocahontas, Mo., the Impala reached speeds of more than 70 miles an hour. She tried honking the horn as she raced by her home to get someone’s attention, but knew her trip wouldn’t end well.

Before she reached the town’s center — where she knew she’d endanger the lives of pedestrians IF she continued — Swan-Kohler decided to turn off the road.

In that moment, she came to terms with her inevitable death. But when the vehicle crashed into a patch of trees, ejecting her through the windshield before bursting into flames, a miracle occurred, she believed.

“God had me in his hands,” she said.

She was momentarily unconscious and had broken her back, but she survived. God had other plans for her, she said.

The medical bills that followed sent her stay-at-home mother to work, leaving Swan-Kohler responsible for feeding her family of seven — she was the youngest of five children.

Her experiences in the kitchen eventually led to a bachelor’s degree in home economics and a master’s in foods, nutrition and communications, as well as a long career in the food industry. For more than 30 years, Swan-Kohler has promoted proper nutrition for various companies, including the St. Louis District Dairy Council, the Missouri Department of Agriculture, the National Oats Co. and the now-shuttered CMF&Z Advertising and Public Relations Agency.

She founded her own agency, Swan-Kohler Associates, in 1991 and authored her first cookbook in 2003, “Tailgates to Touchdowns: Fabulous Football Food.” After she and her husband built their home in Robins — complete with two kitchens — 10 years ago, Swan-Kohler started teaching cooking classes. (Go to www.cookingwithnina.net.)

Today, Swan-Kohler offers about 15 classes each month, with usually eight to 10 people per class. The cost is typically between $45 and $50, but will sometimes reach $100 for all-day classes. She also travels to various businesses for larger-group events. She uses a “limited hands-on” approach, in which her students either can sit back and watch or offer to get involved.

It’s a “much better experience than just going out to dinner,” she said. It’s more interactive, intimate, fun, satisfying and better tasting, she said.

For her, it’s fulfilling.

“I love to help people be more successful in the kitchen. I like teaching them that they can cook really great food at home,” she said.

Her classes start from the very beginning — teaching first how to properly prepare ingredients, unlike most popular TV shows, which start from the middle, she said. To be successful, students need to learn the basics, she explained.

For example, she takes measuring “very seriously.” To duplicate recipes, she said, you have to be precise.

Karen Parker, who’s been to at least 10 of Swan-Kohler’s classes, said she learns something new each time and leaves armed with new recipes and the confidence to create meals on her own.

Plus, she said, she always leaves “feeling good.”

“When you prepare food, you show love,” Swan-Kohler said. “It’s an opportunity to love through food.”

Cook with Nina: Join Nina in her kitchen at these upcoming classes

• Jan 19, 6-9 p.m. Cooking for two — healthy low-carb meals. On the menu: roasted tilapia with avacado-cucumber salsa, Parmesan chicken over Italian spinach salad, turkey lettuce wraps and beef steak stir fry. $50

• Jan. 20, 6-9 p.m. Cooking for two. On the menu: pan-fried chicken with fruit salsa, roasted pork tenderloin with cherry salsa, roasted salmon with mango salsa and pork and pepper stir fry. $50

• Jan 22, 6-9 p.m. Magnificent meatless meals. On the menu: Mexican roasted vegetable lasagna, Italian gnocchi with basil and tomatoes, roasted veggie quesadillas, campanella pasta with sage cream sauce. $50

• Jan 27, 6-9 p.m. Cooking for two — low-carb easy 30-minute meals. On the menu: caprese chicken with winter vegetables, pan-fried salmon with stir-fried veggies, pork and pepper fajitas and warm Italian chicken salad. $50

Register by calling 319-393-7675, emailing swankohler@cs.com or visiting www.cookingwithnina.net.

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