In memory of her mother — a natural-born cook, entertainer, and traveller — Sophia Cameron has produced Rob's Kitchen to celebrate Robyn Cameron's remarkable zest for life; one tragically cut short after a 17-year battle with breast cancer.
Like her mum, Sophia is passionate about food and travel and was inspired to complete her mother's journey with this book. Proceeds go to breast cancer charity Sweet Louise.
We asked Sophia some questions:
This book started out as your mum's project and then became yours. How does it feel now it's a real thing — a published book?
It started out as a small project and something mum wanted to give to her friends and family as a gift to thank them for their support throughout her cancer journey and to finally share all her delicious secrets.
Before she passed, she wanted me to finish the book for her and so I took over and have been working on it for the last year-and-a-half.
I started showing people and the interest in it grew and now it's being published. I feel really overwhelmed by the incredible feedback and amount of support I have gotten through this project.
It's relatable for so many people and it's so lovely to be able to share a piece of Rob's journey and learnings.
She was one of those people that had a really special, effortless way with food, and she touched everyone she met.
Do you feel like you're walking in your mother's shoes? What would she say about what you've achieved?
I have definitely felt like I've been walking in her shoes making this book and I think I've discovered a lot about her in the process. Reading all her notes and recreating her recipes in her kitchen, it's felt like a little piece of her is there with me. If she was here, she would be very excited.
Was it challenging recreating your mother's recipes, particularly when you were often going on childhood memories?
Absolutely. Most of the time I had her handwritten recipes or small notes to work from but sometimes had to get dad's help to read her writing, other times I remember cooking things together or I had her friends send me some of her recipes she shared.
I spent a lot of time picking people's brains and the answers I got most of the time was that "she would do something new every time I saw her".
I'm definitely not a chef like she was and so some of the recipes I had to recreate quite a few times before I got them right.
What were your mum's signatures dishes?
The ones that epitomise her cooking the most are the fresh fish recipes like the burnt butter and caper snapper or Rob's prawns, which she would cook down at our family home in the Coromandel.
Another famous one she made a lot at home was her chicken Marbella and her tagliatelle with mushroom and walnut bolognese. She would serve it on a large dish, accompanying them with starters, sides, and salads — everything placed in the middle of the table, passed around and shared.
Did your mother have a food philosophy, or did she take a less-structured, more organic approach to cooking and entertaining?
Definitely less structured and organic but she had an art for creating "togetherness".
She would bring people together and create gatherings that revolved around sharing food and celebrating each other.
She would have so much fun in the kitchen throwing together seasonal ingredients and passing around glasses of champagne. She would never be reading off a recipe, but it would come from experience and taste.
She could whip up anything that was in the fridge and turn it into an Italian masterpiece. With ingredients and flavours she had a style that took from classic Mediterranean cooking, where simple, elegant ingredients are paired together, complementing each other seamlessly. Lots of rich herbs, zesty lemon, and sweet tomatoes.
Your mother was a great foodie and traveller. Did the food she cook reflect her passion for other cuisines and cultures?
She had a passion for Italian and Greek flavours mostly. Also, a lot of Moroccan and Middle Eastern.
She spent so much time in these areas and lived in so many different places. She worked on a banana plantation in Israel, lived in Greece sleeping on beaches and helping in local restaurants, and she lived and worked on small farms in Turkey helping to shuck sesame seeds and paprika. She adored the people and really immersed herself in their culture.
The recipes in the book absolutely take influence from these areas and she has grown her love for food right throughout her life. I also think she fell in love with the sense of community these places would create through their food and that had a huge influence on her.
The idea of using local produce from the farm or the garden, bringing it straight to the kitchen and then sharing It together around a large table. Everyone's helping out, cooking and eating together in a really relaxed laid-back style.
If you could describe your mother in a few words, what would they be?
Fun, vibrant, magnetic, endlessly giving, caring and courageous.
The proceeds from Rob's Kitchen will go towards supporting women with metastatic breast cancer through Sweet Louise. Your mother's wish or another way of you honouring her memory?
Mum and I had talked about it being a fundraiser and she was always interested in smaller organisations that support women. I knew Sweet Louise supported mum in later years and so I chose the organisation for the book. I think it's incredible that they work more directly with individuals and with women with stage 4 breast cancer to help them financially and emotionally.
What is your greatest hope for Rob's Kitchen, now it's been published in honour of your mother and is out in the world?
Well, I hope people can enjoy her recipes as much as I do but more than anything I hope people who buy it have a lot of fun cooking for and with their friends and family, enjoying every moment with each other.