When Phil Rosenthal — creator, host and spirited funnyman of the award-winning Netflix travel-food show Somebody Feed Phil — smiles, which he does much of the time, his lips curve into the shape of a heart. Well, not a fully rounded classic heart. Rather, his mouth forms a sweet uplifted stretch of a heart. His typical facial expression — looking a little wonderstruck, a lot joyful — reflects Rosenthal’s persona: positive, ebullient, curious, caring and quick-witted.
Rosenthal is beloved by legions of fans who are cheered by his gung-ho humor and inquisitive quest for the best. So this fifth season of Somebody Feed Phil, which premieres May 25 on Netflix, has been highly anticipated. It showcases five distinctive destinations, each with unique culinary twists: Oaxaca (Mexico), Maine, Helsinki (Finland), Portland (Oregon) and Madrid (Spain).
These illuminating episodes brim with vibrant scenery, kitchen hocus-pocus, cultural zest and fascinating back-stories. Foodie mavens galore guide Rosenthal to scrumptious finds along the way. His gastronomic global gallops are sure to be one of this year’s most nurturing comfort-TV finds.
I sat down to dish up warm conversation with Rosenthal, who would never describe himself as a cool guy, although he is. His humility and self-deprecating humor will not allow him that indulgence.
Yet his successful TV track record shines, confirming a well-earned spotlight. Rosenthal was creator, writer and showrunner/executive producer of the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, starring comedian Ray Romano, which ran for nine seasons on CBS. Now, Rosenthal is busy again (“the way I like it,” he affirms) heaping new projects on his plate. In addition to Somebody Feed Phil, there is a spin-off book in the making with more than 60 recipes from the show, as well as behind-the-scenes photos and lively anecdotes that will be published by Simon & Schuster in October.
Rosenthal’s Naked Lunch podcast is also new, launched this month with pal and music journalist David Wild. Find it on Stitcher, SiriusXM’s mobile app, Pandora and all major podcast listening platforms. Entertaining guests are lined up: Ray Romano, Brad Garrett, Brad Paisley, Elaine May, Jimmy Kimmel, Nancy Silverton, Paul Reiser and Roy Choi, for starters.
Here is the smorgasbord of our gabfest:
Laura Manske: What gives you the most pleasure working on Somebody Feed Phil?
Phil Rosenthal: Easy answer — the people who I meet. The food is just the way in, a great connector. Then laughs are the cement. I find that no matter where I travel, people enjoy both a wonderful meal and a sense of humor. These are the human traits that I love most.
Manske: Your important lesson learned from Somebody Feed Phil?
Rosenthal: Stay positive and enthusiastic. This is what life is, going from place to place, adventure to adventure, experience to experience. The way you process every experience has to do with your attitude. If you’re positive and open, the world is a better place.
Manske: Your happiest food experience during the filming of the fifth season?
Rosenthal: The Palace Diner in Biddeford, Maine. It’s an old railroad dining car [built in 1927] with a counter for 15 people. That’s it! And a little kitchen. The young chefs there have worked at very good restaurants like Gramercy Tavern in New York City. What they’ve done [in Biddeford] is kept traditional diner foods on the menu, but upgraded all the ingredients and cooking techniques. So [customers] are getting idealized versions of omelettes, French toast, pancakes, burgers, sandwiches. I loved them all. [Eating at the diner] became one of the favorite things I’ve ever done on this show.
Manske: Your biggest amazement this season?
Rosenthal: Oaxaca! I was not expecting it to be so magically beautiful. It’s a must! I love Mexico City, I really do. And I go to Los Cabos every Christmastime with my family and friends. But Oaxaca is the cultural and gastronomic center of Mexico — spectacular and colorful. The people are so warm and lovely.
Manske: What one thing do you most want viewers to take away from your show?
Rosenthal: Very easy answer. One word: Go! I want them to go. Get off the couch. Plan a trip. You will feel better just planning it. Then when you go, your life is changed. Travel is the most mind-expanding thing we can do. I think that the world would be better if we all could experience a little bit of other people’s experiences. What you get in return is nothing less than a changed perspective. A new way of looking at the world. You bring that perspective home with you.
Manske: How did you and the crew deal with filming during the pandemic?
Rosenthal: Obviously, we couldn’t go as soon as we wanted to start filming. We filmed 10 episodes — five for the fifth season, five for the sixth season — in the spot between Delta and Omicron. We tested every other day. When we went to a restaurant, whomever I would be doing the scene with was tested before I got to the location — so that we all remained safe and so that we could do the scenes without masks. I never got sick. One person, a director, got COVID right before the last episode. Certain countries are stricter than others. Certain countries are more lax. What I noticed a lot is that people in other countries took more personal responsibility [than those in the U.S.], to the point where walking down the street, everyone was wearing masks. Personal responsibility.
Manske: What would your viewers be most surprised to learn about you?
Rosenthal: What you see is what you get. People tell me they are surprised [when they meet me, saying]: ‘Oh, you’re just like you are on TV!’ Yes, there is no acting. That’s me, having a great time. It’s all there. People ask: ‘Do you have any outtakes?’ No, I don’t. We put my outtakes in the show. All my mistakes are there. Maybe they’d be surprised to know that sometimes I get sad and frustrated, right? I don’t do that on the show, because I’m very happy on the show. I’m living a great life on the show. But I’m a human being. I get frustrated with politics and what is happening in the world. I feel all the colors of the rainbow. My viewers get to see my brightest colors on Somebody Feed Phil.
Manske: Many of your family members are involved with Somebody Feed Phil. That’s unusual in this business. Your brother, Richard, whom you poke fun at on the program, is an executive producer. Your late parents, Helen and Max, made regular appearances, during which your father told jokes. Your wife Monica Horan (who, as an actress, had a central role on Everybody Loves Raymond), as well as your daughter, Lily, and son, Ben, often appear on Somebody Feed Phil.
Rosenthal: My whole career is based on family. Everybody Loves Raymond was loosely based on a lot of the people from my family as well as Ray Romano’s family. They’re hilarious, such characters — fodder for material. So I remembered that when it came time to do Somebody Feed Phil. [During each episode, while traveling], I Skype [with my family who is at home]. It’s the modern-day equivalent of the postcard sent home. I realized that would be very relatable [for viewers], because we do this when we are on vacation: ‘Hey, look where I am. Hey, look at what I got to eat. Hey, look at this. And how are you doing?’ So it’s this check-in that is very natural. Most people don’t exist alone. We have families. And there are times when, if my family is available, we go [together]!
Manske: What ultimate key thing have you done in life to make yourself happy?
Rosenthal: Married my wife. Plus, if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have the children whom I have. It’s unfathomable that I would have been so lucky without her.
Manske: Your vivid food memories as a child?
Rosenthal: I loved hotdogs, hamburgers, pizza and French fries. Absolute junk food. My parents really didn’t cook. They both worked. We didn’t have a lot of money. Good, delicious food wasn’t a priority in our house. I begged to go to fast food places, because at least that food had flavor! I just wanted what I saw on TV. It’s a very powerful connection.
Manske: Your one favorite food?
Rosenthal: Pizza. Also, chocolate. Let’s make it a two-part answer.
Manske: You’re stranded alone on a desert island for a month. Which three foods would magically be there for you?
Rosenthal: Chicken. Tequila. Chocolate. Dark chocolate.
Manske: What is the most under-rated food?
Rosenthal: Chicken! When it’s good, it’s good. All the recipes, roasted, fried. Plus, things come from chickens, like eggs. Gotta love a chicken!
Manske: The most over-rated food?
Rosenthal: Some big ticket, expensive items that you don’t need and cost so much money. They literally are over-priced and thus over-rated, right? They are usually not the most delicious things either. A lot of inexpensive cuts of meat and vegetables [require cooks to become innovative]. For example, in Mexico, they invent incredible sauces. You can eat delicious food there and it costs pennies. Over-priced luxury items are, to me, over-rated.
Manske: Such as what, caviar?
Rosenthal: Yes, that is an example. Not that I don’t like it. But I don’t need it. Nobody needs it. These are over-rated things. I mean, how outrageous is it to spend that kind of money on a spoonful of fish eggs? Silly almost.
Manske: What is your food pet peeve?
Rosenthal: It’s actually a restaurant pet peeve. Loud music. I can’t stand it. I’m there to be with a person. I’m there to eat, to be social. I’m not there to hear the restaurant [manager’s] choice of music. If I want to hear music, I’d stay home and listen to music. There’s a nefarious reason why some restaurants crank the music so loud. Do you know what it is? I once thought it was to attract young people. But no. They want you out. They want you to eat and leave so that they can turn the table over.
Manske: But then some customers won’t come back because it’s too loud.
Rosenthal: That’s part of the short-term thinking that’s so pervasive.
Manske: Where do you most want to travel that you’ve never been?
Rosenthal: I would love to see India. Listen, this is a tough thing. How do you do the show there and not address the dire poverty, especially when you’re staying in a comfortable place? I think I know how. You have to do what I do in every show: Try to leave the place a little better than before you found it. Try to help, right? If you do that, then you can still enjoy yourself, because you helped [the people there].
Manske: Fantasy question! With whom would you like to dine with once?
Rosenthal: Can it be Salma Hayek?
Manske: If you want it to be!
Rosenthal: Haha! I think that’s a good answer! My wife would say, ‘Good luck to both of you!’
Manske: What is your personal motto?
Rosenthal: Be nice. We take that for granted. But niceness just makes everything better. What you give out is what you get back.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Somebody Feed the People, a philanthropic initiative of the Rosenthal Family Foundation, supports community-building through food, partnering with organizations that find solutions to food insecurity. It also helps the career development of chefs and restaurant workers, as well as focuses on promoting health through food choices.