On the new season of Phil Rosenthal’s food and travel show Somebody Feed Phil (which premiered on Netflix Oct. 18) the host has a dream itinerary: fresh seafood in Croatia, extra-hot fried chicken in Nashville, sánguches in Santiago.
But on this September evening, Rosenthal is in Los Angeles, sitting at a private table above the grand archways and rustic tablescapes of the dining room of République, a modern French restaurant. He chose this location based on his personal answer to the hypothetical question ‘if you had to eat at one restaurant for the rest of your life, what would it be?’ “Their breakfast, great. Lunch, great. Dinner, great. That’s all you need,” Rosenthal, 62, says.
Over many scrumptious plates, courtesy of République chef Walter Manzke, Rosenthal discusses the best dish he tried during the new season, the episode dedicated to his late parents Helen and Max, and the one destination he always recommends to travelers venturing out of the U.S. for the first time.
Baguette with Rodolphe Le Meunier butter, bluefin tuna tartare, ‘Eggs On Toast’, potato and leek beignets, kanpachi crudo, Munak Ranch heirloom tomatoes, agnolotti with sweet potato, campanelle with Maine lobster, arugula casarecce
His eyes wide with glee and his mouth full of baguette topped with soft-scrambled eggs and fresh uni, Rosenthal recounts some of the highlights (and lowlights) of filming the latest season. “This is my revenge on the sea urchin,” Rosenthal says. “In the Croatia episode, I went diving for sea urchins, and uni, that’s what’s inside. On the outside it’s spikes. So they give you these special gloves. I grabbed the first one and the spikes went right through the glove and they embedded themselves in my fingers. So now we cut to me on the shore with the nurse pulling out these little spikes with her tweezers, that’s the show.”
Rosenthal says he embraces the spontaneity and imperfections that can come with filming a travel show. “People say, ‘I’d love to see a reel of your outtakes,” he says. “We don’t have that. All my mistakes are in the show. I don’t want you to be intimidated by some expert—I’m no expert. I’m a human being and I make many mistakes.”
It was also in Croatia that Rosenthal tried his favorite dish of the season, a scorpion fish at Gverović-Orsan in the picturesque waterside town of Dubrovnik. “That was one of the best things I ever ate in my life, because it was probably swimming in the water I was next to an hour or so ago. It was unbelievable.”
With delicious eats comes some outrageous excursions. On the Austin episode, Rosenthal tried his hand at Formula One racing. “When the driver takes off, it’s a rocket ship of g-force,” he says. “I’m shaking up these old bones. I’m shaking up organs. That shouldn’t happen to someone my age, it was traumatic. After it all it feels like you’ve been in multiple car accidents. My stomach was not right for a couple of days.”
Longtime fans of the show know Phil had a close relationship with his parents Helen and Max, who both passed away in recent years. Phil would video call them at the end of each episode in the earlier seasons. Max would tell a couple of jokes, Helen would make a comment or two about Phil’s travels, an adorable moment is captured. A special episode is dedicated to them and their story at end of the current season.
“I don’t think I’m alone in saying [my parents] were the best part of the show,” he says. “And these are their greatest hits from the show. Plus outtakes, plus backstory about them, plus a discussion with their surviving friends and me and my brother talking about them with our wives. It’s the best one because it’s the most personal and it has a little bit to do with food, but it has everything to do with travel.”
Wild local halibut, Liberty duck, red wine braised Wagyu beef cheek
Rosenthal was the creator of the hit sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, which ended in 2005. In 2015, he hosted I’ll Have What Phil’s Having, a six-episode travel series on PBS that became the inspiration for Somebody Feed Phil. His second act has inspired many to hop on a plane themselves, according to Rosenthal’s daily Instagram stories, where he reposts countless photos of viewers visiting the same spots he’s featured on the show. He says at this moment in his life he has the perfect level of fame. “It doesn’t happen all the time, me getting recognized, but it happens enough for me to be very delighted by it,” Rosenthal says.
He’ll have more opportunities to connect with fans: HIs companion cookbook Somebody Feed Phil The Book (which features chef’s recipes for food featured on the first four seasons) launched last week, along with a Live Nation book tour. “I like to know that what I’m doing means something to people. The show and the tour is my way of not just saying thank you, but I want to meet you,” says Rosenthal, who will be taking local food recommendations at each tour stop.
As for the book itself, Rosenthal says that some of the recipes are so easy that he, a self-proclaimed non-cook, could try his hand at them and others “are so difficult that I should probably have a contest and give a prize out to anyone who can make them.” Many of the book’s photos were taken by Rosenthal’s brother, executive producer and butt of many jokes, Richard; a particular favorite of Phil’s is a snap from the Rio de Janeiro episode in season four, where he sits in a grand café eating a spread of savory pastries. “Food’s only good if you can share it,” he says. “I don’t want to ever eat just by myself, it’s not fun. So the people in the café, they’re walking by and I’d just go ‘you want?’. And they’d take it and then give me a kiss. They’re very warm in Rio.”
Strawberry tiramisu, honey cake, almond brown butter cake, apple tart
Rosenthal, who has rubbed elbows with the best chefs in the world, including Massimo Bottura to José Avillez, says that what separates a good chef from a great one is consistency. “It’s a combination of their imagination, creativity and raw talent. They have a kind of inside knowledge of what makes something delicious, so no matter what dish they apply that knowledge to, it’s going to be delicious.”
For those just beginning their international foodie adventures, Rosenthal recommends Italy as the first stop. “Everywhere you look is gorgeous. All of the food is delicious and everybody’s hugging and kissing you, so what’s not the like? The thing I like about Italian food, it can be the most delicious thing you ever ate and yet it’s still rustic, it’s not fancy. Very simple, not too many ingredients, letting the freshness of those ingredients shine.”
Even after many visits to the bel paese, Rosenthal still always adds a new destination to his itinerary each time. “That’s how you expand your horizons. If you keep going to the same place all the time, you’re not gonna know what you’re missing. Visit the places where you made friends, and then go make new friends in a new place. The reason I love travel so much is [it gives me the opportunity] to meet people. And when you meet people, even if you don’t go anywhere, you travel because you’re getting a point of view and a whole world from the other person that isn’t yours.”
Rosenthal says his goal is to encourage everyone to plan a trip of their own, whether it’s a new neighborhood or a new country. “The trick is to become a kind of citizen of the world where you have respect for wherever you are and gratitude for being there,” he says. “There’s not one thing more mind-expanding in all of life than travel.”