116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Nina Swan-Kohler is a 'food person through and through.”
That love and study of food led her to a career that's included writing a cookbook, offering countless cooking classes and building a home in Robins - with two kitchens - where she's operated her home-based business, Cooking with Nina, since 2006.
She wants people in her classes to know they won't be quizzed on their knowledge of cooking or teased if, for example, they don't know how to measure flour properly.
'I'm not going to ask you what you know,” she said. 'I'm going to teach you some new things.”
During her group cooking classes, Swan-Kohler starts by asking people to share a little bit about themselves. That helps make everyone feel more comfortable and helps reduce any anxiety.
The menu and the lesson plan for classes depend on who's in the class and the kind of class - holiday cooking, meatless meals, classes for kids or a class customized for clients.
When a young, busy couple came in, for example, she taught them how to cook four 30-minute meals. The more people tell her what they'd like to get out of the class, the more she customizes the experience to fit.
Her business, she said, has evolved in the past 19 years to meet changing demands.
In 2008, she began selling the kitchen accessories she uses in the classes because participants were asking where they could buy the tools. In 2011, she added corporate team-building classes, which have been a hit with many businesses in town.
Recently, she started offering a class for widows and widowers.
'During the class, we try to stay positive, deal with the now, and enjoy our time,” Swan-Kohler said, adding she hopes the opportunity to connect and do something fun helps people who are going through a tough time.
Swan-Kohler has ideas for the future, too, such as a catering service for small groups.
'I'm excited, but also nervous,” she said, adding she hopes to offer an experience that can't be found elsewhere in the metro area.
One aspect that should help that goal is that Swan-Kohler has developed the majority of the recipes she uses in her classes.
'Sometimes you dream something up, sometimes you try to re-create something,” she said of those recipes.
She spent years, for example, trying to re-create the taste of a shrimp dish with creamy wine sauce she tasted while she was on vacation.
'It was one of the best things I'd ever had, and I was finally able to get it right,” she said.
For the upcoming holiday meals, Swan-Kohler recommends planning ahead as much as possible to maximize time with family and friends.
As a self-proclaimed foodie, though, she encourages people to prepare something special for the occasion rather than relying only on old stand-bys. Or, if you're already a whiz in the kitchen, consider teaching others what you know, thereby passing on traditions.
'When we spend time preparing food for someone,” she said, 'it shows how much we care for them.”