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All You Can Eat

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October 26, 2009 at 1:37 PM

Harvest Vine: What’s going on? Owners divulge divorce details

It’s true. Chef Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez and his wife and business partner Carolin Messier de Jimenez, owners of Harvest Vine and Txori, have filed for divorce. Their business — which began as a catering concern, grew into a minuscule Madison Valley tapas bar, expanded not once but twice and begat a Basque-style Belltown pixtos bar meant to help finance the dream of a 12-acre chateau in Southwest France — is now run solely by Carolin. Meanwhile, Joseba, who proudly wears a Basque’s beret and his heart on his sleeve, is wearing a new hat: one that has him overseeing their restaurants as founder and “consulting chef.”

Internationally renown chef Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez, wearing his heart on his sleeve.

Perhaps you’ve heard the gossip surrounding the splitting of their sheets? If so, you’re not alone. If they weren’t so sick of hearing it themselves, insists Carolin, the gossip-mongering would be funny.

“It was really upsetting when my manager came to me and said people were blogging about my divorce. It’s appalling!” When she was twice seen at a friend’s restaurant with a date, the “news” went viral. Her take on the blogospherific blah-blah-blah? “I’m not that interesting! A: who cares? B: Leave me alone.” Joseba finds the anonymous character attacks on them both exceedingly offensive, and agrees with Carolin who says their personal life is none of anybody’s business. “Those people need to get the facts together before they open their mouths,” he says. And here are those facts, straight from the horses’ mouths:

“I’m buying Joseph out,” says Carolin, who calls her husband by his Anglicized name and is now going by her maiden name, Messier. Which, pronounced the way it’s spelled, defines the opposite of the way they hope the denouement of their divorce will go.

“He’ll be involved for a minimum of 12 months,” she says, describing the “parenting plan” for running their business. “This is a completely mutual break-up. We both agreed it should have happened years ago.”

Carolin Messier — hold the Jimenez — at Harvest Vine.

Recent years have been emotionally, mentally and financially exhausting, Carolin says, and her husband concurs, explaining, “We grew away from a unified idea of how we should be doing business.” There was talk of moving to Spain, but, says Carolin, “We both love the restaurants and I made the point that in this economy, the restaurants can’t survive an absentee owner.”

As for why she got the restaurants instead of him, “It could have gone either way,” Carolin says. “When we first started [discussions] I was just done. I wanted out. Joseph had no interest in taking over Txori. He saw that as my project from the get-go and has never actively worked there.”

The chef’s leave-taking, she says, has been a transition that’s “a long time coming,” as he’s worked on various projects (including their chateau in Southwest France, now for sale). “He wanted to do so many other things,” says Carolin, who graduated from Sammamish High and later the culinary and pastry program at Seattle Central Community College. In the end, they decided that due to their divergent interests, their financial situation and their hopes for the future, her buy-out “just made sense for both of us.”

“I feel very sad about leaving the business,” admits Joseba, but it’s a good change.” One that’s allowing him to pursue a new international venture — offering gastronomic and enological tours, consulting with restaurateurs, developing recipes and training other chefs here in Seattle and farther afield. During the next year or so, we’ll find him hosting the occasional “Guest Chef” dinner at Harvest Vine (and elsewhere, including this upcoming gig at Olivar), teaching a class or two and consulting with his friend and successor, Joey Serquinia — now overseeing the restaurant kitchens at Harvest Vine and Txori as corporate executive chef.

Joey Serquinia, prince of pinxtos, at Txori in Belltown

Serquinia has worked for and with the couple on and off since they had their catering business and has been running the kitchen at Txori since it opened two years ago. “He’s a man I totally respect,” says Joseba. “He appreciates classical Basque and Spanish cuisine — not going crazy, going here or there” with the menu. “He likes it authentic.”

It should be business as usual at the two restaurants, the couple insists. And as anyone who spends much time at Harvest Vine will tell you, it’s not unusual to find someone other than the bodacious Basque at the stove. Rest assured, says Joseba, you’ll still find their warm and wonderful Argentinean waiter Juan Carlos tending tables — as he has for years.

That’s Kylen McCarthy, dishing up “family dinner” to Juan Carlos after a busy shift. He’s been promoted to No. 1 chef at Harvest Vine, where he’ll be overseen by Joey Serquinia.

Carolin says their longtime friend and general manager Jeff Watanabe has been a lifesaver, managing both restaurants during the rollercoaster ride the couple (and not incidentally, their employees) have been on of late. “My staff has been incredible. I’ve leaned on them a lot, though not intentionally” — as the divorce proceedings have played out. “I’m so pleased with everyone now, and I enjoy going to work every day.”

Joseba feels confident their management team can continue to run the business the couple nurtured together. Whatever may have happened in their personal life, he says, “business is business.” Sad though he may be to relinquish the reins of Harvest Vine, “I hope the people of Seattle — and the United States, because we have people come here from all over — can give it a chance without me,” he says. Yes, he’ll miss playing the role of the patron, though he’s already hatching plans to one day open another Seattle restaurant, so stay tuned for that.

Joseba will be missed at Harvest Vine as well, says his wife, who still recalls the early years when, to the delight and amazement of their customers, he once came dancing out of the prep-room in their tiny tapas bar with a six-foot octopus draped around his neck. She won’t forget how “he’d flirt with a little kid behind the bar, bring him back and teach him how to fry an egg,” and she’ll always remember him for his generosity.

A few years after they opened Harvest Vine, a regular customer came in to tell them she was moving to San Francisco and would dearly miss the place. “He took off his expensive Brigard embroidered jacket,” recalls Carolin (noting they were absolutely broke at that time) and gave it to her. “He said, `Take this, so you’ll remember us while you’re cooking in San Francisco.'” Another couple came in weekly and ordered a $75 bottle of rioja. When the dot.com industry crashed, the guy’s job crashed with it. “They came in and said, `This is the last time you’re going to see us for a while,'” remembers Carolin, and instead of their usual bottle of Marques de Riscal Baron de Chirel, they ordered the winery’s $30 label. Joseba brought out the $75 wine and uncorked it — on the house.

“Those are the things I’m really going to miss about Joseph,” Carolin says of the man she still “adores” — and whose name remains synonymous with Harvest Vine. That, and his braised pork belly with trout caviar. “We’ve created a magical place together. We just kept changing it and expanding it and I miss those early days. They were hard as hell, but I miss them.”

For Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez, seen here at his beloved Harvest Vine, breaking up is hard to do — but “business is business.”

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