Like countless others, I enjoy the highly popular television cooking shows and have gotten to know two celebrity chefs, Emeril Lagasse and Alton Brown. Many other great chefs are not yet on television, but, after dining and conversing with some of the best, I truly believe they want to be. The stars of the television studio kitchen are hot items firmly embedded in popular culture. The one superstar chef I had never met was Mr. Food, the great on-screen personality who is unquestionably one of the pioneers of television cooking.

Recently, I got lucky.

Through the good graces of Helayne Rosenblum, who is one of Mr. Food’s exceptionally talented executives, I spent a great day by the kitchen stage while Mr. Food was taping one show after another for his television empire that extends throughout America. Art Ginsburg, who is much better known as Mr. Food, has been cooking for television since Julia Child was preparing meals for her PBS black and white television audiences. Mr. Food and Ms. Child are genuine groundbreakers. Today’s television chefs are their progeny.

Art Ginsburg created his role as Mr. Food in Troy, New York and early on found a successful television formula that still works magic with more than 100 stations and an audience in the millions. “We usually appear in the morning and mid-day assegments in local news programs,” he told me while I was enjoying the chef’s pasta entrée, a remarkably delicious creation tossed with extra virgin olive oil, basil, brie and tomatoes, “and limit the program to 90 seconds, highlighting my preparation and ingredients along with a good story.” Ginsburg always ends with his signature, “Ooh, it’s so good!” I wondered if this was Emeril’s inspiration for his “bam!’” and “take it up a notch?”

Mr. Food is a self-sufficient, totally independent enterprise. Ginsburg’s company owns, produces, and directs everything. The shows are all videoed by his staff with state of the art cameras, sound and light equipment in a television kitchen studio he designed. Ginsburg has fashioned multiple set backgrounds which allows for a variety of different looks. From top to bottom, the operation, with the exception of television station distribution, is under Ginsburg’s supervision. “King World,” he revealed, which handles Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, “also does the distribution for my programs.”

Ginsburg, who effortlessly combines charm with contagious enthusiasm, is the consummate celebrity chef entrepreneur, offering his recipes, books and advice online and through mail requests. He has authored enough cookbooks to fill a library shelf, and one of his most popular contains recipes for diabetic cooking. “The recipes and cookbooks,” Ginsburg said, “are more fun than you can imagine. They allow me to connect with people who enjoy cooking and are also regular fans of my TV show.”

There’s more than just meals on the Mr. Food show. Regularly, segments feature new kitchen gadgets (“we did one on corkscrews”), the week’s best food buys, food terminology and handmade cheeses. “I like to answer viewer questions,” Ginsburg explained, “particularly when I am able to direct the audience to new items on market shelves.”

Everything about Mr. Food is original. Unlike other TV chefs, he never uses nameless bowls or cups of ingredients. There are bottles, cans and jars with familiar labels on his counter. Heinz catsup and Hellmann’s mayonnaise, for example, are shown and used for areason. “I want my viewers to be able to duplicate what I make on the show, and using products they have or can easily get is a real service,” he observed. “Television cooking is intimate and requires making great dishes with convenient ingredients. There’s no sin in convenience. People appreciate anything that saves them time and money.”

Periodically, Mr. Food takes his show on the road and has a thirty-minute special in Colonial Williamsburg scheduled for the upcoming holiday season. He is planning other on location shows in Memphis, possibly at Graceland. Mr. Food is now part of the American cultural landscape and even after decades in the limelight is reaching an ever-expanding audience. “I get about 12 million hits on our website each year and receive around two million requests for recipes.”

Is there any thought of retirement? “My family works here with me. We are a close-knit unit. We brainstorm new ideas to keep the television programs fresh and entertaining. It’s work, but it’s great fun and brings joy to millions each week. Why would I want to ever stop doing what I truly love?”

 

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