Michel Notredame, 61, restaurateur

Michel Notredame
Michel Notredame
Posted: April 18, 2011

Michel Notredame, 61, the restaurateur who helped introduce Belgian dining and drinking to Philadelphia, died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Monday, March 21, at a hospital in Ostend, Belgium, where he had lived since 2006.

Mr. Notredame arrived here from the West African nation of Senegal, where he had met a woman from Philadelphia.

After leaving the city, he was involved in a restaurant in Vietnam.

Mr. Notredame made his reputation at two Philadelphia restaurants. From 1991 to 1995, he was the manager of Bridgid's, on 24th Street south of Aspen Street in the Fairmount neighborhood. From 1996 to 2002, he was an owner of Cuvee Notredame, at 17th and Green Streets in Spring Garden.

In a 1996 review, Inquirer restaurant critic Elaine Tait judged that the dinner menu at Cuvee was "interesting without being ostentatious."

Mr. Notredame had a flair.

For Bastille Day, July 14, in 1999 and a few years after, he set up tables outside his restaurant, with serving dishes for diners' dogs.

"In France," he explained, "it's OK to bring your dog to a restaurant. So that's why I do it."

In 1998, he organized a street party outside Cuvee, including pony rides and a medieval buffet, to honor Brussels-born painter Pieter Bruegel the Younger (1560s-1630s).

But in September 2002, Cuvee locked its doors.

Beth Notredame, who was separated from Mr. Notredame, said her husband had closed Cuvee because "he was struggling after 9/11, when the economy tanked."

He went back to his native Belgium, worked in Vietnam from 2003 to 2006, and returned to Belgium when he became ill, she said.

Tom Peters, a co-owner of Monk's Cafe in Center City, which calls itself a "Belgian cafe and beer emporium," said Mr. Notredame "was missed when he went to Vietnam, and he's missed even more now."

Mr. Notredame attended the Dutch-language part of Catholic University Leuven in Belgium, his wife said. "He studied law for four years. Didn't complete the studies," she said.

For five years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, she said, Mr. Notredame owned a restaurant, Cafe de Paris, in Middelkerke, a town outside Ostend.

In 1983, Inquirer columnist John Corr reported that Mr. Notredame had told him that he sold the place because he "decided that life was passing him by, while he labored from dawn to dusk in the kitchen."

He traveled to Senegal, met a Philadelphia woman visiting there, and came to Philadelphia in 1982. After they broke up, his wife said, she met and married him.

A 1982 Corr column had him as a chef at La Camargue, the Walnut Street restaurant near the Forrest Theatre.

"When he met me" in 1983, his wife said, "he was working at the Monte Carlo Living Room," near Second and South Streets. Later that year, he was at Ulana's, near Second and Bainbridge Streets.

At one point, she said, he ran a tiny place in the basement of Houston Hall on the University of Pennsylvania campus. It was called Conversation Cafe.

"People in the restaurant business move around a lot," his wife said.

But he had a life outside the kitchen.

In 1991, Mr. Notredame organized a contest to benefit St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in which diners tried to win prizes for identifying, mostly, ingredients in their dishes or drinks. The $6,000 that was raised came from $250 paid by each of 17 participating restaurants and $35 from each contestant, who tripped from restaurant to restaurant, all in one day.

In 1993, the event benefited the Muscular Dystrophy Association; in 1995, the American Diabetes Association.

In a year-end wrap-up in 1991, Philadelphia Daily News restaurant writer Maria Gallagher named Mr. Notredame the town's "cheeriest proprietor" when he was managing Bridgid's.

Perhaps that outlook helped him when he hosted Philadelphia Kitchen, a series of 26 half-hour shows in which he interviewed fellow restaurateurs in 1995 on the Nostalgia Television cable channel.

"He's very funny and a good host. . . . He has a good face, kind of like Santa Claus," Jack McDavid, one of the chefs interviewed on the show, told The Inquirer's Tait.

Notredame was not so certain that TV was for him.

"Watching myself," he told Tait, "is like being a chicken asked to eat its own egg."

His wife had a different culinary interpretation of the show for Tait: "I think you could say that he is a ham."

Besides his wife, Mr. Notredame is survived by his parents, Marcel and Monique, and a sister, Catherine Huys.

Services were held Tuesday, March 29, in Bruges, Belgium. A memorial will be held later in Philadelphia, his wife said.


Contact staff writer Walter F. Naedele at 215-854-5607 or wnaedele@phillynews.com.

 

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