Phil Rosenthal Isn’t The TV Host You’re Used To And That’s A Good Thing
Photo: Frederick M. Brown (Getty)
Phil Rosenthal isn’t the TV show host you’re used to, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The creator of Everybody Loves Raymond travels the world on his Netflix series Somebody Feed Phil the same way many of us do — with wonder and awe. He’s genuinely excited to show us the unique food and drinks of the world, and we can’t get enough of it. That’s why we are so excited to watch the second season of this exciting, entertaining show (premiering on July 6th). Another reason we are excited is because Rosenthal was gracious enough to answer a few questions about how often he travels, his favorite country to visit, and how he went from creating one of the most iconic TV shows in history to becoming a travel show host.
MANDATORY: How did you go from creating Everybody Loves Raymond to traveling the world hosting your own show?
PHIL ROSENTHAL: We filmed an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where we went to Italy and in real life, Ray Romano wasn’t interested in any sort of travel. I decided to write his character as having that same attitude, and when we filmed the episode where the character got “woke” to the joys of travel, I saw the same thing happen to Ray the person. It was an amazing transformation to experience and a light bulb went off in my head — I wanted to do this for other people. Later, I made a documentary called Exporting Raymond, which is all about bringing our show to Russia, and PBS said, “We like the idea of you going places, do you have any ideas?” Well, I’d had this fantasy for a very long time — I said, “What if I did a show that gets you to travel by showing you the best places in the world to eat?” and they said yes. It’s been a wonderful journey, and now I’m gearing up for the second course of Somebody Feed Phil episodes on Netflix.
How often do you travel?
As much as possible! It’s the most fun you can have; the most mind-expanding thing you can do in life. I’m currently traveling with my wife to some of the destinations she wasn’t able to experience while filming the new episodes, so greetings from Barcelona! What I’m discovering this trip, so far, is the thrill of going back to places I’ve already been. I revisited Lisbon and Barcelona and it’s so much fun to now have friends in these cities, to bring my wife to these places, and we’re having the time of our lives. I recommend this to everybody, but I do have to say that you have a lot to do! You have to travel first, make friends, and then go back and see those friends — so you better get started.
What’s your favorite country you’ve visited on the show or on your own time?
Italy. Italy wins. First of all, everywhere you look is beautiful, all the food is delicious, and everyone is hugging and kissing you — so what’s not to like? It’s just my favorite. Maybe I was an Italian in another life; I just feel like I fit in, I belong, I love it, and I appreciate it. Everybody has an affinity for somewhere and Italy is my place. It’s one of the first places I went on my first trip overseas when I was 23, and I’ve come back about ten times since.
What’s the most unique food you’ve tried in your travels?
When you say unique, right away my mind is going to the 1,000 year old egg in Hong Kong. It’s not really 1,000, it just tastes that way. It’s a preserved egg and it has two flavors — the first thing you taste is very, very rotten egg, followed by an overpowering wave of ammonia. I’m sure there’s some magical properties in it, but what I learned at the hot pot restaurant is you’re supposed to have a little slice of it and put it in with the other ingredients, you’re not supposed to take a big bite out of it — like an onion. But I had popped this in my mouth — half a hard-boiled 1000 year old egg — because I’m an idiot.
How much research goes into each episode?
We have about two months of research and planning. I have incredible people through the production company who live in each destination, so we work with them to find the best, new, and greatest stuff in addition to my own research. From there, I cross-reference and check everything, but I always leave room to discover while I am in each city just by roaming the streets and meeting with locals. That’s the whole point of traveling — exploring. And when you make friends in new places, then you trust what they think.
Where are you visiting in the new season?
I’m thrilled to have people see our take on Venice, Dublin, Buenos Aires, Copenhagen, Cape Town, and New York. New York was a personal one for me since I spent half of my life there, and it’s where I’m from. I was driving myself crazy thinking about how to make the perfect NYC episode, but then I realized you can’t — there’s so much that’s been done already and even more to see, so I realized I could only show viewers my New York. Each new place is filled with incredible people, unique experiences, and of course, lots of food.
How do you decide where to visit for the show?
It’s a mix of my personal interest and, because the show is relatively young, I want to encourage people who haven’t traveled much, so we’re starting with Earth’s Greatest Hits — the popular places that are popular for a reason. The destinations are accessible and feel a little familiar at least to people who haven’t traveled yet, but are also wonderful for people who love to revisit. It’s really fun to go somewhere you’ve never been, but it’s just as much fun to go back and discover new things; to remember why you loved it.
How stressful is it to be in front of the camera trying new foods?
A little bit. You feel, because the camera is on you, you have an obligation to put this in your mouth. I had to eat ants. And you know what happened? They weren’t too bad. I rode a horse on camera, and I’m not really a horseman. But probably the most terrifying thing I’ve done so far is coming up in the Buenos Aires episode — my first tango lesson. Nobody wants to look terrible, but sometimes you have to go for it and experience it so other people won’t be afraid. Sometimes, when you go just a little outside of your comfort zone, that’s where your greatest experiences can happen. And I think people can watch somebody like me and say, “If that guy can go outside, maybe I can too.”
How do you stay so enthusiastic while traveling?
I’m truly excited about discovering new things and seeing new places. I guess it’s just a life attitude that you can choose to have or not have. On this trip now, we had a two-hour delay on the tarmac before taking off from JFK, and I think the recirculation from the air in the plane made me sick. My first few days on this recent trip I was sick, and landing in Lisbon during the springtime brought on allergies I never knew I had. However, I still had a great time because my friends were there, the weather was beautiful, the food was amazing, and I have the best travel companion — my wife. I happen to be the luckiest man on earth. When I’m looking out the window in such places, I think about where I’m from, my background, how I’ve grown, and where I am at this moment of my life. I still feel lucky that I have the opportunity for these experiences because most people never get to go to other lands, so you count your blessings. I always tell people to travel now while they’re young enough and everything still works — you’ll never be younger than you are right now, so you better go! I also think that if more people traveled, maybe the world would be a little nicer.
What advice do you have for novice travelers?
Have an open mind, that’s all you need. You don’t need a lot of money, just the desire to go. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself because you bring it home with you. It lasts forever. Value experiences more than things. It starts with baby steps, you can travel in your own town! Try an ethnic restaurant you’ve been afraid of — look at the menu and I guarantee there is something you’ll like. Taste something you might be afraid of. And if you don’t like it, don’t finish it — that’ll be the worst thing that’ll happen. The best thing is that you’ll love it and it’ll open your mind to new things. My only wish is that I hope the show inspires you to travel.