By John Tanasychuk
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. —
Art Ginsburg — who as the lovable Mr. Food shared his kitchen wisdom on TV for more than three decades — died of pancreatic cancer Wednesday at his home in Weston, Fla. He was 81.
Two weeks ago, Ginsburg taped his last 90-second vignette, ending with a smile and his trademark: “Oooh it tastes so good!”
Ginsburg’s homey cooking segments are seen on 125 TV stations, down from 150 at his peak. Mr. Food’s studio, test kitchen and business operations with 15 employees, is headquartered in Fort Lauderdale.
Ginsburg’s TV career started in the mid ’70s in Troy, N.Y., where he grew up in the meat business. He and his wife, Ethel, ran a successful catering company, and he was active in community theater. His Mr. Food persona was born when he was asked to give quick cooking lessons on a local TV show.
From the beginning, Ginsburg was the down-to-earth antidote to such high-brow TV chefs of the time as Julia Child and Graham Kerr. He believed in convenience products and recipes with no more than 10 ingredients. Over the years, Ginsburg sold 52 cookbooks and produced 230 vignettes annually. He also appeared regularly on QVC.
A few years ago, he was swarmed by fans at the annual South Beach Food & Wine Festival. “I watch all the Food Network stars for entertainment,” one fan told him. “But I cook your recipes.”
Ginsburg shaped many careers, including no less a personality than chef and TV talk show host Rachael Ray.
“I have known Art for all of my adult life on television,” Ray told the Sun Sentinel for a story that appeared in 2010. “His simple and satisfying food techniques have paved the way for so many cooks and chefs alike.”
Howard Rosenthal, chief operating officer at Mr. Food and a partner in the business for close to 20 years, said Ginsburg’s personality and outlook were infectious.
“He had a love for life and love for his family and a feeling that nothing was going to stop him from doing what he did,” said Rosenthal. “Over the years, people would always say: ’When are you retiring?’ He’d say: ’Why would I retire? I love what I do.’”
About a year ago, however, Ginsburg started planning his transition. He began putting more emphasis on the Mr. Food test kitchen and appeared in vignettes with Rosenthal, who also carries the title of Chief Food Officer. Rosenthal has also done segments on his own.
“I’m going to carry on the tradition and the legacy of the Mr. Food brand through the Mr. Food test kitchen,” said Rosenthal. “I won’t fill his shoes, but I hope to share the passion for food and the love of food that he did. I don’t ever do segments in Art’s kitchen. Art’s kitchen is Art’s kitchen. That will probably be retired now.”
Last month, the MrFood.com website had 1.7 million unique visitors and a Mr. Food newsletter is emailed to 850,000 people six days a week. Next spring, a Mr. Food app will launch and an extensive housewares line is planned for fall of 2013.
In addition to his wife of 57 years, survivors include sons Steve of Parkland, Fla., and Chuck of Fort Lauderdale; daughter Caryl Ginsburg Fantel of Coral Springs, Fla.; and six grandchildren.