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Phil Rosenthal is best known as the creator and producer of the Emmy-winning mega hit, “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which ran on CBS for nearly a decade. Ever since the show wrapped up in 2005, Rosenthal has been applying his brand of G-rated, self-deprecating humor to another passion: culinary travel.
First, he traversed some of the world’s biggest food cities, including Tokyo, Paris and Los Angeles, in the six-episode PBS show “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having,” which earned Rosenthal a James Beard award and established him not as a snob or expert, but as an everyday guy who loves to meet new people and “support the culinary arts,” meaning he’s an investor in several of Southern California’s hottest restaurants.
Now, he’s continuing the gastronomic adventures in a new Netflix show, “Somebody Feed Phil,” which finds Rosenthal in a synagogue-themed hummus shop in Tel Aviv, harvesting lotus stems at dawn in Saigon, and peddling al pastor at a taco stand in Mexico City because it’s that good.
And that’s the thing about Rosenthal. He really is that wide-eyed and sweet. On the road, he Skypes with his tech-challenged parents — Helen, 85, and Max, 92 — who’ve become regulars on the show, and he just wants to encourage travel skeptics to get out and see the world, already. Save for an unpleasant bite of beef udders, he’s rarely even critical about what he eats.
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“Somebody Feed Phil” returns to Netflix on July 6 with six new cities, including off-the-gastronomic-map locations, like Dublin and Cape Town. Recently, we caught up with Rosenthal by phone to discuss food, family and his favorite Bay Area restaurants.
Q: First, how are your parents? We adore them.
A: Everyone does. You know the parents in “Everybody Loves Raymond” are based on them. People keep asking to see more of them on the show, so I’ve put up a site called Phil Rosenthal World and am running some of the interviews with them on there. There’s the one where they don’t realize we can see their bedroom on Skype and another where they try to find Netflix on their TV.
Q: How’d you get the idea for a food and travel show?
A: At the end of our first season of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” I asked Ray Romano where he was going on hiatus and if he’d ever been to Europe. And he said, “No, I’m not really interested in traveling or other cultures.” So I decided to do something about it.
It took a while to get the budget but in Season 5, we send the family over to Rome for a two-part episode and I saw both the character and my friend transform and open his eyes to a whole new world and culture. I saw him fall in love with the experience and I thought, ‘What if I could do this for other people?’
Q: What’s the difference between your PBS show and “Somebody Feed Phil”?
A: I’m in ultra high definition now. It’s not really different. You know two-thirds of people in the United States don’t have passports and are missing out on what I think is the greatest experience ever. I figure maybe they’ll see a putz like me going to these places and think, “Hey, I can do that too.”
Q: What kind of food did you grow up with?
It wasn’t very good. My mother was not a fantastic cook. Our joke in the house was, “Mom had a setting on the oven for shoe.” She once made matzoh lasagna. I’m not kidding. Instead of sheets of pasta, it was sheets of matzoh.
Q: What are your favorite dishes to cook?
A: I would love to cook, if I had any patience or talent. My wife and I love meeting with friends and eating out. Neither of us are really good cooks. We also love hiring (private chef) Josh Rosenstein once a week to cook for us. It’s the greatest luxury on earth. My kitchen is my favorite place to eat in the world. He’s a genius.
Q: Capetown isn’t widely known for its food scene. Best thing you ate there?
A: The very first place we go — they specialize in wild game.
Q: What did you think of the food in Dublin?
A: Ireland was never known for its food, but I think that’s changing. The episode is really an exploration of the indigenous food of Ireland. For instance, I had no idea how big a role seaweed plays in their food. They consume more seaweed than Japan.
Q: What are your favorite places to eat in the Bay Area?
I was there recently and we went up to Sausalito to a waterside shack called Fish. I also love State Bird Provisions, and when I was in Palo Alto, we grabbed lunch at Wursthall. The Bay Area is an incredible place to eat.
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