The mercurial chef's austere style divided diners, but his brilliance brought us culinary stardom
I met Guenter Seeger in 1985, shortly after he was hired to take over the then unremarkable Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead. Seeger had previously owned a restaurant in Pforzheim, near Baden-Baden in southwest Germany, and his tenure there earned him a rare Michelin star. Recruited by an American company to become the chef in a Washington, D.C., hotel that never took off, Seeger was lured to Atlanta by fellow German Horst Schulze, then the Ritz’s general manager. When I asked him recently if he remembered his first impression of our city, he said, “Ja
, Christiane, it wasn’t the center of the world—but Pforzheim wasn’t either.”
Seeger polarized Atlanta diners. His menu at the Dining Room—handwritten every day at a time when most restaurants distributed heavy tomes with everlasting entries—broke new ground for our city: warm belon oysters from Maine doused with a delicate cucumber vinaigrette, barely opaque lobster garnished with beet ravioli in chive sauce, thinly sliced rare venison sprinkled with bright orange chanterelles and beads of fresh apple, duck liver that quivered on the plate. Some of the Dining Room’s loyal clientele balked at food they perceived as undercooked. I loved it with all my French soul. Stars from critics and awards from the James Beard Foundation and the Mobil Guide, among others, started to pile up.
In 1997 he left the Ritz to open Seeger’s. The Buckhead bungalow, a former Pierre Deux furniture store, received a $2 million makeover that included a six-by-nine-foot red Morice stove custom-built in France. Committed to serving meats and produce from exceptional sources, he rallied the North Georgia farmers and spurred the creation of the Morningside Farmers Market. (He was born into farm-to-table culture long before it became faddish: His father was a fruit broker in the small town of Loffenau in the northern Black Forest.) Seeger’s would be to Atlanta what the French Laundry was to San Francisco or Restaurant Daniel was to New York: a highly personal beacon of artistic gastronomy.
Seeger in 1999; photograph by Craig Bromley