One year ago, Michel Segur was given only a few days to live.
After a battle against two types of cancer, the first detected in 2010, the second in 2015, he was nearing the end, unable to eat, and reduced to trying to stay comfortable in hospice. But his brother Philippe knew that the fight wasn’t over when Michel, after more than a week seemingly on death’s doorstep, asked for some real food.
“He was on ice cubes for seven days, and then on the eighth day, he was eating a turkey sandwich,” said Philippe with a chuckle. “Hospital food, and he enjoyed it!”
That passion for life, and for food, are two of the memories that will endure for Philippe after Michel, the founder and longtime owner/operator of West Vancouver’s famed Chez Michel restaurant, passed away last Sunday at the age of 71.
“For me, what he is leaving behind is an example of a will to live and never give up,” said Philippe. “He came home and he lasted another 12 months. At that time he knew there were a few things he really wanted to do.”
That spirit of perseverance and a passion for food were already evident early in life for Michel, as chronicled in a wonderful 2015 profile by North Shore News columnist Laura Anderson. As a teenager in France, Michel caught a ride across the country on his way to his first ever job in a kitchen, but the journey took an unexpected turn when the car he was riding in got into a crash, and Michel, as he put it, was “ejected from la voiture.”
The travellers carried on by taxi, and a day after the crash Michel arrived at the restaurant – “a little stiff and sore” – and got to work.
His impressive culinary career took him across Europe and over to North America before he eventually landed in West Vancouver. Chez Michel, opened in 1979, was actually created by two Michels. Michel Segur designed the kitchen, while business partner Michel Balleger designed the front of house.
As the restaurant flourished, Michel Segur started a family, marrying Sylvie Bienvenue, a nurse at Lions Gate Hospital, in 1985. They raised their two children, Gabrielle and Julien, in West Vancouver.
In 2000 Michel Segur teamed up with Philippe to open a second restaurant, Le Bistro Chez Michel, on Esplanade in North Vancouver. Philippe is 15 years younger than Michel, and said working with his older brother was an amazing experience.
“He was a mentor figure for me,” said Philippe. “He was dedicated to his clientele. His work, his restaurant, was his life. He had an amazing respect and dedication to serving, to wanting to please.”
In a 2017 restaurant review, North Shore News columnist Chris Dagenais described what it was like to watch Michel work a room.
“With confidence and an easygoing comportment he approached tables to see how diners were faring,” he wrote, adding that Michel knew many patrons by name and made a point of checking in on nearly every table in the crowded room.
Le Bistro Chez Michel closed in 2012, but the original Chez Michel in West Vancouver is still going strong today. Michel sold the restaurant last year, working hard through his illness to make sure Chez Michel would be in good hands, that all of his staff were taken care of, and that the restaurant was set up for continued success.
Ensuring the future of Chez Michel was one of the things Michel was fighting for as he battled cancer, but another was even more personal. Gabrielle got married in July of this year, and Michel, who needed a walker to get around, wanted to be there. He made it in style.
“He walked his daughter down the aisle, he did the first dance,” said Philippe. “And he never used the walker.”
A memorial service, open to the public, is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 20 at 11 a.m. at St. Anthony’s Parish, 2347 Inglewood Ave. in West Vancouver.