40 Under 40: Gelika Bücker

“Food is very simple. It is not supposed to scare you; it is supposed to make you happy,” says Gelika Bücker.

This is a testament to who Gelika is – gracefully elegant in her approach to food & life, no fuss, no nonsense. In the fickle industry of food and wine, few stay true to the quiet simplicity of ingredients or cultivars available to us. Gelika prefers to keep her cooking as natural as possible, rather playing with plating than with her ingredients.

Her passion for food started when she was still a wee youngin’ hanging around in her mother’s restaurant. She studied Industrial Phycology at the University of Stellenbosch which led her to South Korea to teach English. The food bug bit again and hard, which prompted her to pursue a career as a chef. After her return to South Africa she received her Culinary Arts Diploma in Johannesburg - top of her class, of course - whilst interning at several fine restaurants. She started her catering company GB: WE ARE FOOD after graduating. Now, when we think catering, we think VLV egg sandwiches with wilted lettuce clinging to it. Not so with GB. Fresh and wholesome food is the order of the day and has resulted in several contracts to cater for international artists which includes The Lumineers and UB 40. Gelika’s business has grown progressively, catering for 2 000 people a day and doing events as well. I caught up with her to talk a bit of nonsense.

What vintage are you? (Year of birth).


Aliens come down from space and lands slap-bang in your kitchen. You must explain to them in one dish what it is that you do. What do you make?

As everything is still new to them I won’t scare them too much with strange food. I will explain to them how to cook a nice lamb chop with crispy potatoes and a fresh salsa verde.

What sparked your love for food and the drink?

From a young age, my mom had her own restaurant in a very small town. There was not much for me to do accept to go to the restaurant and watch them cook. I loved it.

What is the best way to serve venison?

Medium-rare if it is a steak. If it is a stew, long and slow cooking with lots of spices and red wine.

What do you rate as your proudest achievement?

When I started my own catering business with R100 and catered for 180 people out of my apartment with no staff and not much equipment. Also, when I was awarded student of the year in my practical and theoretical.

What would you like to achieve over the next 10 years?

To possibly start another few businesses in the food industry.

Who or what is your idea of gastronomical brilliance?

Marco Pierre White.

Where are you happiest?

When traveling and tasting new food and drinks.

Biggest vice?

I am a chocoholic!

You have catered for quite a few bands – what is on your playlist in the kitchen?

My music can be anything from Elle Fitzgerald, Leonard Cohen, The XX. It doesn't stop - I play anything depending on my mood.

What is the most versatile ingredient in the kitchen?


And the most overrated food trend?

A “foam”.

Who do you admire in your industry?

All the different people and the creativity. People are so different and it is amazing how perspective differs from one person to the next.

It is the morning after a big night before and we are craving a greasy ‘plaasontbyt’ – what is a healthier alternative that still hits the spot?

I can’t really think of a healthy alternative after a big night out! If I really must, I would swap it for a nice Acai bowl sprinkled with bee pollen.

Where would you like to see the South African food industry go and grow over the next ten years?

I don’t think that we are doing bad at all. We have the best produce in the world and amazing chefs. We should attend more international workshops so people recognise our wonderful food. I have travelled a lot and South Africa really has amazing produce.

Your cellar is underwater. You can save one bottle of wine from your collection – what do you choose?

Bouchard Finlayson Tete De Cuvee.

What is your favourite food and wine memory?

When I went to a food and wine pairing at Creation Wine in the Hemel-and-Aarde Valley and a bus full of German musicians stopped for some wine. Let’s just say it was a crazy day, drinking, eating, singing - the piano at Creation didn't stop once!

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party? What would you cook and why?

I would invite all my close friends and would cook easy food filled with flavour - nothing too fancy. I enjoy myself the most when food and drink are not too pretentious. 

Looking back, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Follow your instincts and your heart. Do what you want to do and not what others expect of you.

Gelika Bücker

Gelika plating