Q & A with Chef Gunter Seeger
In a time when New York’s most elite restaurateurs have defaulted to fast-casual endeavors, it’s intriguing that Atlanta’s own world-class chef — the German-born Günter Seeger, of The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton and the eponymous Seeger — has chosen this moment to toss his hat into our in-flux, fine dining field. Yet after closing his Georgia flagship in 2007 (and spending the ensuing years consulting for an international grocery store chain), he determined the Big Apple was, in fact, the ideal setting for his next venture. And Seeger’s Meatpacking District establishment is just as sumptuous and masterfully seasonal as the restaurants that came before it.
Then there are the four to 10-course menus, featuring dishes almost audacious in their austere simplicity; from Seeger’s signature steamed egg topped with bottarga and Chantilly cream, to a single oyster adorned with beads of finger lime, to the season’s first asparagus wrapped in ribbons of black truffles, and a curry-tinged cup of velvet carrot soup — which helped garner the barely year-old restaurant a coveted Michelin star.
Not that Seeger’s especially interested in accolades; any more than he is in making an easy buck on burgers. “I don’t look back at what I’ve done in the past. I want to be present, and get better every day,” he said. “Glory and awards don’t mean that much to me. Only making the restaurant better; that’s all.”
Did you always want to be a chef, growing up?
My mother decided I was going to become a chef, so I became a chef. I was 13 years old when I began my three-year apprenticeship, but I’d never cooked at all before then.
You moved to New York soon after closing your Atlanta restaurant. So what took you so long to open a restaurant here?
New York was in the middle of a financial crisis at the time, so it didn’t make sense to open anything. I consulted with one of the largest grocery store chains in the world instead; imagining what supermarkets should look like in the future. Then when I saw the time was right, I looked towards opening a restaurant in New York. From that point, it took me exactly two years.
What originally brought you to NYC?
I considered going to Europe, but New York is a culinary center in the U.S.; a great city with incredible chefs. The world comes to New York, so I thought it was a great place to be.
How would you characterize this restaurant, other than fine dining?
We buy the finest products there are, and do very little to them. That’s our philosophy.
With even some of the best known haute cuisine chefs dipping their toes into the fast-casual realm, what do you see as the future of fine dining in NYC?
Chefs want to make money, just like anyone else. But it’s difficult for very fine establishments to make money, so it’s necessary to find alternative ways to support your flagship. As for me, however, I’m still concentrating only on my flagship. And we’ll see what happens from there.
What would you say are some of the most over and underrated ingredients?
I don’t work in the world of trends. Luxurious ingredients like caviar and truffles seem overrated when they’re used just to make a dish more expensive, but we don’t use them that way. I only work with ingredients I enjoy, and I don’t play with them or take them apart. We support purveyors who have a lot of pride in what they do, and we handle carrots in the same way we handle caviar.
What do you like to do (and most importantly, eat) in the city on a rare day off?
I like to stay at home and relax. Maybe make something simple like roasted chicken or lentil soup. Sunday is not about exploring the culinary world, it’s about relaxing, enjoying a bottle of wine and cooking some spaghetti.
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