Dish: The Plating Game: Cecilia Robinson

Interview originally published in Dish Magazine, issue #109, 8/5/2023

We asked one of our favourite Kiwi celebrities to share her food loves so we could create a dish especially for her.

Originally hailing from Sweden, Cecilia Robinson is a serial entrepreneur and innovator, having founded some of Aotearoa’s biggest start-ups. Now also a mother to three young children, we spoke with the Waiheke local about her food loves, childhood food memories, and the food she loves to dish up when entertaining.

What kind of food did you eat growing up in Sweden? 
Cecilia: With a Swedish mum and a dad from the UK (but born in India), we had
a very mixed cuisine at home. The family dish would be a very traditional Indian curry, cooked across two to three days. In other cases, we’d make traditional Swedish meatballs and have herring for special occasions. Growing up in Sweden, herring was something I used to absolutely detest – even just the smell of it. Then one year it flipped and I’ve been addicted ever since. I remember thinking the year it changed, that this is what adulthood must feel like.

Can you share a favourite childhood food memory? 
Cecilia: Growing up in Sweden we’d celebrate ‘Julafton’ on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day have a more traditional turkey. I loved the fact that we’d have two different Christmas foods on each day and embrace the differences between the two.

What’s your favourite dish to cook with our family today?
Cecilia: We’re very seasonal in what we eat – during summer we normally have lots of salad and freshly caught fish, but this weather has meant more winter cooking habits! Recently we’ve been having Swedish meatballs, which are always a hit, and big pork roasts.

What’s your go-to dish when time is limited?
Cecilia: Spaghetti Bolognese with lots of different minces and slow-cooked. I like making a quick version and then just letting it boil away as I run around doing a million last-minute chores, juggling the three kids.

Talk us through a day in the food life of Cecilia Robinson. Usual breakfast? Coffee? Go-to lunch, snacks, dinner?
Cecilia: I love food! We normally start the mornings with a cold-pressed juice that I make for all of us consisting of carrots, beetroot, orange, mandarin, turmeric and ginger. Plus whatever leftover fruit or veges I have on hand. It’s a bit of an insurance policy for me to ensure the kids start the day healthily. My youngest two love it and my eldest oscillates between like and… dislike. I’m a tea drinker (have never had coffee) and try to eat a healthy lunch at the office – I normally resort to Vietnamese or Japanese (both are close by!). I’m not a big snack eater, but each night I have a cup of tea and chocolate post-dinner (with the kids in bed!).

Do you have a favourite tea/flavour?
Cecilia: English breakfast all the way, but I stop by about 3pm and then swap to herbal. I’m a big ginger and peppermint tea kind of girl!

Do you enjoy cooking? What would your signature dish be?
Cecilia: I love cooking but find it stressful on a day-to-day basis, in particular with so many kids, so My Food Bag is a huge help! I’m pretty well-versed in the kitchen and love cooking and tend to keep cuisines interesting from freshly cooked snapper with a simple salad, to red duck curry, or Swedish meatballs and a traditional roast.

Do you like to entertain? If so, what would your ideal gathering look like – how many guests would you have and what would be on the menu?
Cecilia: We’re starting to come out of our new baby/Covid hibernating and finally starting to entertain again. My favourite gatherings are those with heaps of kids and parents, relaxed and fun on Waiheke in the sunshine. Normally we’d feed all the kids first to get it out of the way, and then adults. I like sharing dishes, so carving up a big leg of lamb with plenty of different salads on offer is always a go- to. I like having something for everyone, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, by having plenty of small dishes on hand.

Tell us about a memorable meal of your life. What was special about it?
Cecilia: After having our daughter Leila, Nadia Lim delivered sushi to Birthcare and her husband Carlos made us caramel slice alongside a bottle of champagne to celebrate. It was one of the most memorable meals as we’d had such a difficult journey to get to that point and I remember feeling so emotionally charged and thinking it was the best meal I’d ever had. I still crave those caramel slices!

What’s your go-to drink (either alcoholic or not)?
Cecilia: We’ve been cutting down on alcohol quite a lot in the past year, but I really love a glass of chardonnay in summer or syrah in winter. We have some amazing wineries in New Zealand, and we are ardent supporters of many of them – in particular, Waiheke wines!

What are some of your favourite restaurants (anywhere in the world)?
Cecilia: My favourite restaurants are all our locals such as 372; Tantalus Estate; The Heke Kitchen, Brewery & Distillery; The Oyster Inn; and Poderi Crisci. All are on Waiheke. I can’t pick one of them, they all deserve a shout-out for different reasons. 

Click here to find the recipe that Sarah made for Cecilia.