Michael Ginor, whose Great Neck restaurant, Lola, was only one of his extraordinary contributions to the world of fine dining, has died at 59. According to his family, the avid athlete had a heart attack during the swimming portion of an Ironman Triathlon competition in Israel.
A longtime Great Neck resident, Ginor told Newsday in 2017 that, for his fifth birthday, “my parents asked if I wanted a bicycle or a lobster, and I went with the lobster.”
Ginor opened his first Great Neck restaurant in 2008. Tel Aviv was a spirited and modern take on Israeli food, and it spurred him to open the more ambitious Lola the following year. Lola quickly vaulted into the top tier of LI restaurants, earning 3½ stars from Newsday and an enduring spot on the Top 100 Restaurants list. Tel Aviv closed in 2011, but many of its Mediterranean dishes live on at Lola.
The restaurants were a side dish to Ginor’s main business, Hudson Valley Foie Gras. In 1989, he and partner Izzy Yanay founded what was to become the country’s largest producer of foie gras, or fattened duck liver. At the time, foie gras was not well known here, so Ginor teamed up with Jean-Louis Palladin, the French-born chef whose eponymous Washington, D.C., restaurant was at the country’s culinary vanguard, to introduce the luxury ingredient to American chefs. After Palladin’s death in 2001, Ginor made the program international, organizing culinary events all over the world.
“This was before the internet … before the Food Network," said Ginor’s son, Jordan. “My father was behind the scenes, creating a fraternity of all these guys — Thomas Keller, Todd English, Douglas Rodriguez, Suser Lee, Ming Tsai and so many more.”
Years of hanging out with chefs gave Ginor the confidence to cook professionally and, when he was not working the line at Lola, he might well be making dinner for the king of Thailand.
Back in Great Neck, Ginor’s globetrotting palate would be translated onto Lola’s menu by chef-partner Lenny Messina. Messina is also involved in the 200-acre foie gras facility in upstate Ferndale, which, over the years, has expanded into growing and processing proprietary breeds of duck and chicken, and manufacturing private-label broths, sauces and condiments. Recently, Jordan Ginor came aboard as director, joining co-director Marcus Henley, Yanay and Ginor’s wife, Laurie.
Michael Aeyal Ginor was born in 1963 to Israeli expatriates who settled in Great Neck. He received a bachelor of arts degree from Brandeis University and an MBA from New York University, after which, at 23, he went to work on Wall Street. Four years later, he quit to join the Israeli Defense Forces where, as a captain, he served as a patrol commander and the IDF spokesman. It was in Israel that he first fell in love with foie gras (of which the Israelis were leading producers) and, with Yanay, hatched the idea of bringing their modern methods of production back to America.
Ginor’s son, Yonaton, said his father was proudest that his 1999 cookbook, “Foie Gras … A Passion” won the French cookbook award, Prix La Mazille, and that he and Yanay were inducted into the James Beard Foundation 2001 “Who's Who of Food and Beverage.”
In addition to competing in Ironman triathlons, Ginor was a passionate skier, scuba diver and student of mixed martial arts. "He passed all of those passions on to his children," said his daughter, Maya. His son, Yonaton, recalled that his father made him defer his matriculation at University of Pennsylvania so that the two could backpack together for four months. "He wanted to show me the culture and cuisines of Asia himself." Jordan recounted that Ginor took the two boys to Brazil to train with the Gracie family (the developers of Brazilian jiujitsu) and to Thailand to study with masters of Muay Thai (Thai boxing).
Ginor is survived by his wife, Laurie; his two sons, Yonatan and Jordan; his daughter, Maya; and his brother, Natti Ginor of Manhattan. A private funeral will be held on Wednesday.