When chef Guenter Seeger opens his eponymous restaurant in the Meatpacking District later this spring, it will not only be his first New York City restaurant, it will also be his first restaurant at all since he closed his Atlanta restaurant, Seeger's, in 2007. After cooking haute cuisine down South for 22 years, first at Buckhead and then at Seeger's, Seeger has been quietly plotting his New York debut for the last eight or so years, waiting to land on the right space. Now, as the restaurant finally comes together, he tells Eater a little more about the sort of menu he has planned, why he wants to keep things simple, and what he's been doing for all these years.
Eater: How did this restaurant come about? What will it be like?
I don't want to build another four or five million dollar temple.Guenter Seeger: I have been looking for a while to find the right spot. New York is tricky, real estate is expensive, you know. It's quite small space. The capacity is 38, so it would usually fit about 30 to 35 people. I wanted to create something that would fit in the building and also the neighborhood – because the Meatpacking was once a supplier of food in New York City. I envision a very open space, an intimate thing, where we can really showcase what we do. We want to find a different way to create a great restaurant. Restaurants – including my own – used to have this very elaborate decor, with a lot of linen, silver, and things like that. I want to see if we can simplify these things a bit.
From a quality perspective, I'd like to push to have this become a really great restaurant, but I'd really like to dim down the interior. It will be elegant, but without tablecloths. I don't want to build another four or five million dollar temple. It's a totally different world now. The customer is younger, which is great to see, there's access to so many great restaurants – we have a different guest today.
Can you talk more about what the menu will look like?
We will have a very changing menu, it will change almost every day. It will be around six courses, with a few options for each course. I like the food very pure. We don't need 10 things on a plate. So the food will be simplistic, but also technically perfect. It's definitely going to be different from what I did in my old restaurant, very product oriented. Right now I'm meeting a lot of my farmers, finding new ones who are very interested to work with me, but it's hard to say what kind of style it will be, we have to get a little closer to the opening.
How much will that prix fixe cost?
I think the six or seven courses and a couple amuse bouche will probably cost around $120, $125. We don't want to charge exorbitant prices, but of course it has to work. New York is very expensive.
Will you offer anything else? Either a la carte dishes, or a longer tasting menu?
We won't do a la carte. But we'll have a special table for friends of mine or people we know, and that meal will be more than six courses.
It's been a long time since you last were running a restaurant. What have you been doing in the meantime?
After being in the business for a very long time, I actually took the first year off, and traveled and relaxed. After that I was consulting, working all over the world, in Australia, Canada, England. I also worked on some more casual concepts and retail concepts, but at the same time I was looking around for opportunities, for the right space. I was working a very different concept at first, and the deal didn't work as well as I thought it would, and then this new space came up and it was small, and I just really loved it.
You were in Atlanta for such a long time. Why New York now? Was it something you had been thinking about for a long time?
At one point I was like, "Where can we take this restaurant?" Sometimes the job takes you where it takes you. I went to Atlanta because of the Ritz Carlton hotel company. I worked with them for 12 years, then I opened my own restaurant and was there for 10 years. But how the city developed, it went in a way that it became harder and harder to run a very high end restaurant. I had a very good time, but at one point I was like, "Where can we take this restaurant?" The market changed. I just couldn't see it moving any further, and I always thought about New York – it has the chefs, and you also have the rich clientele. It was a very hard decision to make because I was very invested in my restaurant, and I don't just mean financially. It was a very hard decision, but I'm very happy I did it.
With integrity and authenticity, we can find a little spot in the New York marketplace. Of course, in the end you're very nervous. What if no customer comes? But that's just part of it. It's a little bit unusually small, but that will make it special.