'Somebody Feed Phil' Season 7: Phil Rosenthal Interview


At the start of an interview with Phil Rosenthal about his food and travel series Somebody Feed Phil, I’m introduced as “Richard” (the company email I used to set up our chat displays my full name). I tell Rosenthal that I go by Rick.

“OK, good,” he replies. “Because you know, I’m not partial to the name Richard” — which is the name of Rosenthal’s brother, Somebody Feed Phil executive producer and occasional on-camera tormentor Rich Rosenthal.

The tone is thus set for a diverting interview about season seven of Somebody Feed Phil, which premiered March 1 on Netflix. The series has become one of the streamer’s longer-running nonfiction shows, with the eight episodes of the current season bringing its total to 41. The new batch of episodes follows Rosenthal to Mumbai, Washington, D.C., Kyoto, Iceland, Dubai, the “real” Orlando, Taipei and Scotland.

Rosenthal talked with The Hollywood Reporter about how he and the show’s team choose locations, what doesn’t make the final cut, a children’s book he co-authored with his daughter Lily, his relationship with the late Norman Lear — who has a cameo in the new season — and what happened after he fumbled a very expensive dish during one episode.

I want to ask about the opening scene in the Dubai episode, where you drop the burger. How much did that cost, and what happened after it hit the floor?

I think it was a lot of money because it was coated in gold. I don’t have the exact figure, but I think it was close to, if not more than, $100. The burger patty was covered in that that edible gold leaf. And what you see happen, really happened. By the way, it’s so expensive, they didn’t bring me another one.

I’m curious about the process of choosing locations, and then once you do that, finding local guides and the people that are going to accompany you to specific places. Can you walk me through that, and how much you’re involved in the logistics?

It starts, I guess, with where I’ve always wanted to go — either places I’ve been before that I can’t wait to show the audience, or a new place for me that we can discover together. I also take suggestions from my brother and our production company in New York. Sometimes we get invitations from tourism boards that want us to come. We investigate those and see if there’s enough going on in the city — food-wise, culture-wise, scenically — to warrant filming for a whole week. We find if we can film for a week, and there’s enough to do and eat and see and people, then we’re probably going to go there. Today, you can get a great meal almost anywhere. I think it’s just amazing. I attribute this to the internet, that a kid in Idaho can see what a chef in in Florence, Italy, is doing and emulate it, you know?

And then I Google — “best places to eat in Dubai.” That’s really what I do. I don’t go by just one recommendation — you have to cross-reference, you have to start seeing the place pop up on several lists. Then I send my picks over to the production office, and because it was Anthony Bourdain’s old production company, ZPZ, they have fixers all over the world who are very familiar with their towns, their cities, and they will advise us as well: “That place used to be good, but this is the really hot spot now,” or “This is something new that’s opening that you should really check out.” Of course I listen to them. Then I leave room in the schedule for serendipity. You don’t want to over plan. Because how many times have you been on vacation and just walked into a place because it was cold or rainy and you’re tired, and [said] “Let’s just eat here”? And you have the meal your life by accident. I love when that happens. It’s kind of my favorite thing, the unexpected.

Are there cases where you go somewhere and it doesn’t turn out to be what you hoped, so you have to go do plan B?

People tell me, “It looks like you like everything.” I’m like, Yeah, I like everything I put in the show. I’m not out to ruin somebody’s business if I don’t really like it. Unless it’s hilarious, that it’s so bad that I almost die and my brother’s saying, “Oh, this is funny. Let’s keep it in.” But it’s always an ingredient. It’s never the fault of the restaurant or the chef. I’m just one guy. And I figure I have a limited amount of time to show you why you should travel to this place. Why would I waste time showing you the stuff that’s not great?

Does that happen very often?

We have a pretty good track record. We really do our due diligence to investigate the places. We kind of know going in that this is going to be good. It may not be my favorite thing, but we know it’s going to be good.

Phil Rosenthal in Dubai with local guide Arva Ahmed.

Courtesy of Netflix

You’ve talked a lot about your experience, or lack thereof, with food and travel while you were growing up. Can you pinpoint a couple of the things that helped expand your worldview in that regard?

I actually wrote about this in Somebody Feed Phil the Book, the cookbook and companion book to the show. When I was nine, we hadn’t been anywhere. We’d never traveled. We couldn’t afford it. But there was a bar mitzvah in Atlanta. My cousins in Atlanta took me to a new place — it was new to me — called 7-Eleven, which we didn’t have in New York. We go, and OK, it looks like a store. What’s this? This kind of Space Age-looking machine that made slushy drinks. And I had one, a Coca-Cola Slurpee. I had this and it changed my life, because I thought, I have to travel more. [laughs] If this what you can find in different places, something delicious like this. That was completely out of my experience. It was like, I guess the world is worth knowing.

Then when I was 12, we begged our parents to take us to this new place that opened in Florida called Disney World. We got to spend a day in Disney World, and that also [showed me] the fun of travel. When you think about it, at the very least Disney awakens a child’s sense of travel. You’re literally going to different lands when you’re there: Tomorrowland, Adventureland.

What I tell adults is, you know what’s better than the Eiffel Tower in Disney World? The real one. You want the original. That goes for food, too. If you like a food, you go to the source. It’s so obvious, but we never think about it. “Oh, I love Italian food.” Do you know where it’s really, really good?

Italy.

That’s where you have to go.

Did you have a favorite dish or spot from the places you went for this season?

There are some amazing ones this season. There’s a particularly emotional one where I ate at a Palestinian woman’s restaurant in Dubai. That actually made me emotional. I can’t even explain it — there was something magical that happened. But I fell in love with this lady, the chef. We just had some kind of connection. We’ve stayed in touch, and I just love her and her family.

After visiting so many places and eating so many different foods, is there still anything that if it’s put in front you, you’d say no thanks?

I’m not crazy about black licorice. I don’t think I’m alone. I’ve eaten a few bugs on the show. But is it the thing I’m looking for on the menu when I go out to eat? No. I only eat them because I want to be polite. If I’m offered something, I’m going to at least taste it.

That’s a nice segue into the new book you have, Just Try It (which is set to publish March 5). I assume it’s based on experiences you had with your daughter?

It was my daughter Lily’s idea that I write a kid’s book. I thought, I love that idea, but you should write it with me. We thought of this idea about a dad who eats everything and his little girl who won’t eat anything. It’s aimed at kids from four to eight. But really, the lesson is [universal] — I can tell adults, just try it. It applies to everything. Just try eating something, maybe a cuisine that you didn’t ever think you knew anything about. Maybe you’ll like it, maybe your world will open up. Maybe you’re trying the Peruvian restaurant down the street that you never had any interest in, but you try it and then you like it. You go to the restaurant, you meet the owner, and the next thing you know you’re in Machu Picchu because you love it so much.

Has Lilly come around to that idea now that she’s an adult?

Yes — she’s quite adventurous. She turns me on to stuff, which is fantastic. My kids have surpassed me in every way, which is all you want.

Your video chat during the D.C. episode is with Norman Lear — when did you record that?

I think it’s his last TV appearance. Yeah. He was 100 going on 101 when we filmed [in 2023], and you could see, still completely with it and super funny.

Did you ever get a chance to work with him, or just talk shop?

We were family. We became great friends for many years. I got a call during the first season of Raymond that Norman Lear was on the phone. I’m like, what? I pick up the phone and he goes, “I hear we’re fans of each other.” I’m like, “I don’t know about you, but I’m a big fan of yours.” And he goes, “Yeah, we should have lunch. You want to have lunch tomorrow?” I said OK, and he goes, “There’s someone else here who wants to have lunch with you, too. Do you mind if I bring him?” I said bring whoever you want. I got to lunch, and he’s sitting there with Carl Reiner. I dropped dead. They were so they sweet to me. They treated me like family immediately, and we became family. We hung out all the time. It was one of the joys of my life to know these guys.

What are some places you haven’t been yet, either personally or for the show, that are on your list?

On my live tour in the fall, I went to Australia. I’d never been in Australia, and I think it would be amazing to film there. Then there are places that I’ve never been in my life, like Shanghai, that I know is going to be great if we film there, because I know the food will be amazing and the place will be amazing. There’s so many — we did this Mumbai episode, and that was the first time I was ever in India. But all that did was make me realize my god, India is gigantic, and every state in India has its own cuisine. You could do a whole season of just India, if not more. There are places in Spain I haven’t been that I can’t wait to go. I still haven’t been to San Sebastian, and I know that’s one of the food capitals of the world. I could go on and on. Listen, it’s not like when we were doing Everybody Loves Raymond, and we did 24 episodes a season. This is five, six episodes of a season. This one, we were lucky and got to do eight. That’s our biggest one yet. But I hope Netflix keeps us going, because It’s a big world and somebody’s got to eat it.

Interview edited and condensed.



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