'Somebody Feed Phil' Is the Show We Need in a Post-Bourdain World (Exclusive)
By Rachel McRady
“A happy and hungry man,” the insanely catchy theme song to Netflix’s Somebody Feed Phil accurately boasts of Phil Rosenthal. The 58-year-old star of the traveling food show is celebrating his series’ newly released second season. And nobody can celebrate like Phil.
“I consider myself the luckiest fellow in the world,” he tells ET. “I truly am delighted to go. I love everywhere I’ve been. I love it. I love the people that I’ve met. It just takes a little kindness, that’s all. What you give out is what you get back. So the show’s a gift to me because the response has been so lovely.”
With his infectious enthusiasm and endearing dad-like reactions, Phil is spreading some of his signature joy around the world and making travel a bit more accessible to Americans. The creator of Everybody Loves Raymond first concocted the idea for the show while filming a 2000 episode of the beloved sitcom.
At the time, the show’s star, Ray Romano, had expressed the fact that he had no interest in travel. So naturally, Phil sent him over to Italy to film an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond.
“We did that episode -- it took a lot of convincing -- and during the filming of the episode, I saw that the arc of the character that I wrote where he reluctantly went there and then ‘got woke,’ I saw this happen to Ray the actor, to the person, and that’s when the light bulb went off,” Phil recalls. “‘Oh, I want to do this for other people!’ Because there’s no greater high than turning your friends on to stuff you like, right?”
Now, almost two decades later, Phil is doing just that. After a successful season one where he traveled to foodie hotspots like Bangkok, Thailand; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Lisbon, Portugal, Phil is back and better than ever in season two.
Along with his family-packed crew, which includes his brother, Richard, and son, Ben, he visits spots like Copenhagen, Demark; Dublin, Ireland; Cape Town, South Africa; and even his hometown, New York City.
The show is filled with optimism, understanding of other cultures and the common thread that we’re not so different from one another. The positive message is reminiscent of fellow Netflix hit, Queer Eye, but without the political focus. In fact, Phil insists that politics were not on his mind when he pitched the idea for the series.
“I started doing it before the political climate got tense and it was never meant to be a political statement in any way,” he says. “I’m just trying to be a person, right? Just being a person is suddenly political. I just want people to travel because I think if you’re nice at all and open a little bit to other places and other people, you then become an ambassador, just by being nice, just by enjoying your vacation. You can present a different face and beyond that, selfishly, it makes your life better.”
His entire goal of the show is to get Americans to travel more, which means he’s set on focusing on what he calls “Earth’s greatest hits” -- popular destinations easily accessible to most. Unlike the late Anthony Bourdain, who traveled to remote locations on CNN's Parts Unknown, Phil is focused on more food for the masses.
“I can only do what I do,” he says of following Bourdain’s mythic legacy. “He is irreplaceable. I am nowhere near the journalist he was, the writer that he was, the adventurer that he was. I can only present a type of food and travel show from my point of view. No one can fill anyone else’s shoes. Everyone is individual. He was very, very special."
Praising the late chef, writer and TV personality for “reinventing the genre,” Phil notes "the way I sold my show was with one line. I said, ‘I’m exactly like Anthony Bourdain, if he was afraid of everything.’”
It’s true, Phil never will have the cool swagger of a Bourdain type, strolling down the Parisian streets with his hands in his pockets, lighting up a cigarette and musing about the City of Lights. Instead, he’ll effortlessly charm a group of Vietnamese schoolchildren into singing a song with him and eating ice cream. He’ll awkwardly learn the tango as you blush on his behalf. He’ll take a big bite of something tasty, pause and raise his eyebrows high enough to be a Marx Brother.
And maybe that’s what we need these days. In a world of division, disheartening headlines and hateful rhetoric, what’s wrong with enjoying a slice of something sweet?
But don’t expect Phil to always play it safe. In addition to the city’s signature dishes, he also tries to branch out and try the unexpected in each place. While he’s certainly not a picky eater, he does admit to having his limits.
“I’m not a big fan of black licorice. That’s about it,” he says. “Also, I’m not looking for bugs to eat.”
Bugs or no bugs, what Somebody Feed Phil has that other shows these days seem to lack is heart. Much of that, of course, rests on Phil’s not-afraid-to-be-dorky shoulders, but he also has found ways to incorporate his own family into the mix, making the experience that much more charming. He Skypes with his elderly parents -- the show’s true stars -- from their home in New York City in every episode.
“Everybody knows [they’re the favorites]. It’s so annoying to me. I work so hard. Why do I bother traveling if that’s what you like?” Phil jokingly quips. “I can sit in the kitchen with them, which I do in the New York episode.”
In addition to sampling his mom’s matzo ball soup in the season two finale, he’s also brought his wife, Monica Horan, who played Amy on Raymond in the Dublin episode, and both of his kids along for the Copenhagen installment. He sticks with a bit until the bitter end, the way only dads can do -- like when he pretends to be passed out after a wooden roller-coaster ride in Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens and his daughter has to climb over him.
And while it would be easy to roll your eyes and write him off, there’s something about Phil that makes you want to go outside your own comfort zone, be kinder to people you see on the street and savor every bite of life.
“When you get specific then it becomes universal. That’s what I learned as a writer,” he says.
Somebody Feed Phil is currently streaming on Netflix. He also recently launched philrosenthalworld.com, which features every restaurant and city visited on the show, so start making your reservations now!