Art Ginsburg, TV’s Mr. Food, dies in South Florida at 81

 

cdolen@MiamiHerald.com

His trademarked tagline, the thing he said at the end of the 90-second syndicated TV cooking segments that made him a household name, encapsulated everything Art Ginsburg felt about food.

“Ooh! It’s so good!” Mr. Food would say, signing off.

Ginsburg, aka Mr. Food, died on Wednesday at 81 at his home in Weston after a battle with pancreatic cancer. The self-taught cook believed in creating simple meals with convenient ingredients, and that belief helped him build an empire around his likeable TV personality, 52 cookbooks, the Fort Lauderdale-based Mr. Food Test Kitchen and cooking-related products.

In South Florida, Ginsburg’s quick cooking lessons have aired on WFOR-CBS4 and WPLG-ABC 10. Elliott Rodriguez, the veteran WFOR news anchor, worked the noon broadcast when the station was airing the Mr. Food segments and knew Ginsburg from his work at both stations. He remembers a down-to-earth guy who would share his cooking with the staff when he came in to do special holiday segments.

“His cooking wasn’t stuffy, chichi food. It was food the average person can make with everyday ingredients,” Rodriguez said. “Today, we have the Food Network, but before that, we had Mr. Food.”

Arthur Ginsburg was born in Troy, N.Y., and as a young man worked in Albany with his father, a kosher butcher. Caryl Ginsburg Fantel recalled that her father struggled to find a career that would support the family, and when her brother, Steve, turned 13, the Ginsburgs couldn’t afford a caterer for his bar mitzvah.

“So my parents did it themselves, and it turned their lives around,” said Fantel, who serves as a musical director and pianist at many South Florida theaters. “My father believed that if you throw out enough darts, one of them will stick. He felt everything he did led him to what he became.”

Ginsburg’s path to fame was built on the catering company he started after that bar mitzvah food got rave reviews. An amateur actor who played Tevye in both Tevye and His Daughters (the play) and Fiddler on the Roof (the musical), Ginsburg and his big personality clicked when he started doing food segments on morning TV in upstate New York during the 1970s. By 1981, he was syndicating his 90-second cooking segments to nine stations, then signed a deal with King World to distribute the segments nationally. Similarly, his first cookbook was self-published in 1984, the year he and his wife moved to Weston.

Five years later, he signed a deal with William Morrow and Company, just one of the companies that published his books, which have sold more than eight million copies.

In South Florida, Ginsburg’s life became a mixture of work, family and enthusiastic support of his daughter’s theater career. Fantel and her husband, Roy, live close to award-winning actors Avi Hoffman and Laura Turnbull in Coral Springs, and the couples are longtime friends. Hoffman, who has also played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, said that he and Ginsburg would sing bits of Tevye’s songs when they saw each other. Turnbull, who remembers Passover seders at Ginsburg’s home, said her two daughters thought of him as a surrogate grandfather.

“They called Art Pop-Pop, which is what his own grandchildren called him,” she said.

Howard Rosenthal, chief operating officer of Ginsburg Enterprises, worked with Ginsburg on air and behind the scenes for almost 20 years. He noted that the company’s website, www.mrfood.com, gets more than 10 million page views and 1.7 million unique visitors per month. And he said that Ginsburg embraced 21st century technology as a way of getting his easy-cooking lessons out to more people.

“We stream all of our shows on our site. Art thought that if a woman is working when the show airs, she should be able to watch it at 3 p.m. or 3 a.m. if she wants to,” Rosenthal said.

Average cooks and famous ones appreciated Ginsburg’s food-is-love philosophy.

TV chef Rachael Ray told The Associated Press, “Art Ginsburg was a warm, gregarious man who knew food is more about love and sharing than a fancy ingredient list. He was a supportive and loyal friend, and I’ll miss his smile and warm hugs. This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful I knew him.”

Though not everything Ginsburg dreamed up turned to gold — the do-it-yourself Mr. Food No-Fuss Meals franchise concept never took off — the entrepreneur and family man was, by any measure, a success. He was also a man who gave back, hosting a telethon for a children’s hospital and various charities in northwestern New York for 10 years running.

Ginsburg’s daughter Caryl said her dad taught her mom, who “couldn’t boil water” when the two married, to be a great cook. And fame, she said, never changed who he was.

“What you saw was what you got. He wasn’t on a pedestal. He was a likeable guy, an approachable guy,” she said. “He was a mensch.”

Ginsburg is survived by Ethel, his wife of 57 years; son Steve of Parkland, daughter Caryl of Coral Springs, son Chuck of Fort Lauderdale; and six grandchildren. A funeral service will be held at 9:30 a.m. Friday at B’nai Aviv Synagogue, 1410 Indian Trace Dr., Weston.

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