by Dennis Dalman
Some people day-dream about a fabulous chef magically appearing in the home kitchen to whip up a delicious dinner.
As a long-time caterer, Nina Koster of Sartell has made that dream come true for families – many times. And now, she is about to launch her own business called “My Chef.” There will be a party to celebrate her new business at 1 p.m. Friday, April 20 at Blackberry Ridge Golf Course in Sartell. Everyone is invited to enjoy hors d’oeuvres, prizes and golf.
So far, Koster is the owner and sole employee of My Chef, although she plans to add some assistants in the future. What Koster does is cook a quality dinner in people’s kitchens at their request. Almost all dinners she can cook within one hour for a cost of $24.95 for that hour.
Here is how the business works. Someone calls Koster and asks if she could cook a special dinner. Koster asks them what they have on hand in the refrigerator and cupboards. Sometimes they ask her to come up with an intriguing meal. Other times, they tell her what kind of meal they have in mind. Koster and her client make an appointment. On the appointed time, she arrives at the house or apartment with her own cooking ware, spices, herbs and sauces. Then she rolls up her sleeves and starts cooking. An hour later, the family (up to six people) sits down to dinner and enjoys Koster’s gourmet entree.
The most commonly requested dinner, Koster said, is some type of stir-fry.
Koster is never “stumped” by a request because the range of her cuisine talents is vast. She cooks Mexican, Italian, American, French, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai and Laotian – to name just some ethnic styles. The latter three kinds of cuisine are almost “second nature” to Koster because she herself is Laotian, but she was born in Thailand, a country her family had to flee to during the Vietnam War when all of Southeast Asia was in bloody turmoil. Her family moved to the United States when Nina was only 3 years old, and so she remembers nothing of that region. Its styles of cuisine, however, were passed onto her daily through her parents and extended family members while she was growing up in Des Moines, Iowa. Like people who thrived in ancient cultures, Koster’s family prized the importance of togetherness during meal times. Good food and sharing it is a foundation of strong family ties in Southeast Asian cultures, Koster noted.
A brother of Koster’s owns a restaurant in Des Moines and has won prestigious awards for his cooking. Koster herself has been honored with a feature story in “Minnesota Moments” magazine. Koster is a cuisine adventurer. When she eats a new meal in a new restaurant, her mind and taste-buds work overtime, trying to “figure out” the dish and how she can duplicate it – with her own special touches – when she gets home to her own kitchen. That is how she absorbed and mastered such a wide variety of cuisines.
Koster said her clients always smile and smack their lips with approval when she cooks their meals in the comfort of their own kitchens. People hire her service for a variety of reasons. Some husbands and wives, for instance, want to do something for their spouses as an anniversary surprise; others hire her just to taste a special at-home dinner; still others want to share a special dinner with a special guest or two.
Koster also gives her clients lots of tips, such as how to serve leftovers creatively, making virtually new and delicious dinners from yesterday’s leftovers.
“I call my business ‘My Chef’ because it gives people a chance to say they have their own chef, if only for that one hour,” Koster said.
For 11 years, Koster and a business partner owned “Elle Nina World Catering.” They would cook dinners in people’s homes, in addition to some decorating, doing elegant table layouts and even give cooking lessons. As her new business grows, Koster might introduce some of those services as well.
“I love to bring joy,” she said. “Nowadays, things are so different. At meal time, many families do not sit down to enjoy the meal together. Good meals should bring people together. I love to help do that.”
When she was a caterer, Koster cooked meals in homes as far away as Alexandria and Stillwater. For now, she is cooking only in the Sartell area, but she hopes to expand in the Twin Cities area in time.
Koster moved to the Sartell area after she graduated from high school in Des Moines to be closer to her extended family. She has a daughter – 9-year-old Madison – who is learning to cook, too.