Chef Günter Seeger has seemingly received every accolade that a chef would strive for. To name a few of his awards, he has been recognized with a Michelin Star, Mobil Five Stars, AAA’s Five Diamond List, Tradition et Qualité, a “Best New Restaurant” title from Esquire, and a James Beard Award. In turn, it is not surprising that there was a lot of hype for the opening of Günter Seeger NY, now based at 641 Hudson Street.
Prior to the start-up of his namesake New York City restaurant, Chef Günter Seeger was influential as to how people in Atlanta ate. He was one of the driving forces behind the Georgia Organic Farmers. He was also voted to be one of the 50 most important people of the last 50 years in Atlanta. Prior to this, Chef Seeger had worked throughout Europe, originating in Germany’s Black Forest Region before moving on to Switzerland.
On behalf of Downtown, I had the opportunity to experience an abbreviated version of Günter Seeger’s 12-course menu for lunch. Each course was impressively paired with a different wine, as selected by the restaurant’s Wine Director, Sabra Lewis. Beyond the quality of the food itself, two things especially struck me about this visit. First, the restaurant was not only immaculate in terms of cleanliness and upscale décor, but it looked like you were in someone’s home. Second, the restaurant’s 10 to 12-course menu reportedly changes on a daily basis. In turn, I was blown away by Günter Seeger on a few levels.
Chef Seeger answered some Q&A for Downtown after the visit, explaining more about the restaurant and his background. More info on the restaurant can be found at www.gunterseegerny.com and/or on Twitter via @GunterSeegerNY. Chef Seeger himself is surprisingly active on Twitter for such an acclaimed chef and restauranter, tweeting from @GuenterSeeger.
Is there a theme to this restaurant? Do you have a way of describing it beyond it being high-end with the cuisine being creative?
Günter Seeger: There is no theme; just a return to simplistic cooking in a space designed to make guests feel welcome and relaxed.
Where did the inspiration for the restaurant come from? Or did the open space come first?
GS: We looked in New York City for a long time to find the right space. The space always dictates for me the design and idea of a restaurant. When we found the townhouse in the far West Village / Meatpacking District, the idea of a house with an elegant open kitchen came to mind. Everyone always gathers in the kitchen, it’s the soul of the house. I didn’t want to hide that behind a wall.
A lot of the decor comes from your personal collection, like the lighting piece your grandfather made. Why?
GS: In the case of my grandfather’s chandelier, this has traveled with me since I opened my first restaurant at 27. It hung there, and then I brought it to Atlanta, where it hung in the entrance at my restaurant there. Growing up, it was in my home above the kitchen table, and as a boy I remember looking up at this beautiful work of art. It is all hand-hammered; I have great admiration for my grandfather and to have this in my restaurant reminds me of him, and reminds me of my heritage.
Is there anything you miss about working and living in the Atlanta area?
GS: Atlanta is a wonderful city. When my wife and I lived there, we had a beautiful home in a gorgeous area of Midtown that felt like living in a forest. The simple beauty of living closer to nature is something we don’t have in New York City. I had a deep network of farmers in Atlanta that I worked closely with — the growing season is longer there. That is difficult to replicate, but will happen over time here in New York City.
When you’re not busy as a chef, what do you like to do for fun?
GS: I love to eat, like any chef, and love to travel to see new places. On the weekends, when not busy, I like to get out of the city and visit the small towns in the Hudson Valley, go hiking, eat and drink wine. And we love to have friends over for dinner at our house to share simple meals. We have what is basically a sushi bar for our kitchen table, it’s the best — we are all in the kitchen together, and guests love to get up and jump in and help.
As a New Yorker, I figured I’d ask: Are you related to Pete Seeger?
GS: (Laughs) I get that all the time! We must share the same roots from the deep Black Forest…