THE RURAL TASTE: Societi Bistro’s chef Robert Giljam brings a generous portion of enthusiasm and attentive professionalism to the kitchen.
Societi Bistro, an eatery in a charming Georgian-style house on Orange Street, offers a relaxed and pleasant dining experience.

Offering inside as well as garden seating options, the establishment is perfect for a lazy lunch or dinner paired with good wine all year round.

Societi Bistro recently appointed new head chef Robert Giljam, a graduate of the City and Guilds accredited Capsicum Culinary Studios. Chef Giljam established his reputation at Umi, the Japanese fusion restaurant in Camps Bay.

Johan van Heerden, Societi Bistro’s general manager, says Giljam has brought a generous portion of enthusiasm and attentive professionalism to any kitchen, attributes that pushed him to the top of the list during the selection process.

We get to know the chef, his culinary journey and inspirations.

Please tell us about your culinary journey?

My journey started when I was quite young. I was fascinated with the science of baking, and my interests grew from there. 

After high school, I studied the culinary arts and went straight into the profession. I have been fortunate enough to experience a variety of cuisines, from French to Japanese, Italian to Southeast Asian and, of course, our local South African fare.

Was it a conscious decision to become a chef?

I admit I kind of fell into it. I signed up for a six-month course in cooking as a way to explore my interests, then promptly fell in love with cheffing and extended the course to the Full City and Guilds Diploma. 

Upon completion I jumped head-first into a professional kitchen and never looked back.

Which cuisine do you find the most exciting? Right now I would say Asian cuisine excites me the most, particularly Japanese and Korean. They have this intrinsic ability to be both intricate and health conscious at the same time.

Do you try out dishes on your family?

All the time. I often cook with my parents too, playing around with ideas and flavour combinations. Needless to say, our traditional family dishes have changed considerably.

People have become very switched on about food recently, with everyone talking about things like seasonal and local produce.

What excites you about food now?

I feel that sustainable and locally sourced produce is now a given for any restaurant competing for the attention of discerning and educated diners. 

What excites me is exercising my creativity to use local ingredients in a global context, for example using local venison in a traditionally European rural recipe or a locally produced herb or vegetable in an Asian context. 

Rural food is often simple and robust - by adding local, sustainable produce and perhaps a lightness to the recipe we are adding a modern touch.

Do you travel and see things in other cuisines, in other countries, that might interest you?

I haven't travelled much yet, but I do plan to do so in the near future. Societi Bistro is in the process of arranging a stage (internship) for me at Gjelina in Los Angeles, and a tour through the winelands of California next year. 

I would also love to travel to Europe and Asia, experiencing the cultures and how they express themselves through their cuisine. To discover the origins and experience the original dishes I have prepared for many years.

Do you find it a challenge to constantly innovate?

It is a challenge that I relish, being able to bring new ideas and combinations to our guests. It is a privilege to receive enthusiastic feedback from our guests, which invigorates my creativity and is a reward in itself.

How do you define your cuisine?

I would define it as rural traditional cuisine, served in an urban environment - creating contemporary classics.

Last words?

I feel like I have come home to Societi Bistro - they have strict ethical boundaries that clearly define a space for me to play and be creative.

Societi Bistro at www.societi.co.za. Where? 50 Orange Street, Gardens, Cape Town. Open: Mondays to Saturdays noon to 10pm.