'Somebody Feed Phil' Star Phil Rosenthal Reveals How He Travels the World Without Overpacking
Whether devouring gelato in Venice, taste-testing coffee in Cape Town, or learning how to properly eat empanadas in Buenos Aires, Phil Rosenthal giddily tackles the world — one delicious bite (and sip) at a time — on his Netflix original series, Somebody Feed Phil. And much to the delight of the show's devotees, the entertainment streaming service just announced it will be serving up 10 more episodes.
“We are thrilled to get to keep doing this; it’s a dream,” Rosenthal said of the show, which made its Netflix debut in 2018.
In each hour-long episode, Rosenthal takes viewers on a culinary tour through a different city, sharing his unscripted — and usually hilarious — reactions to the dishes he tries, the locals he meets, and the cultures he embraces along the way. The Everybody Loves Raymond creator and executive producer is often joined by his family, his famous friends, and celebrated chefs on his journey to discover the best of what each destination has to offer.
Besides introducing viewers to tantalizing global cuisine, it’s Rosenthal’s wide-eyed enthusiasm and innate ability to connect with people in a heartfelt way that has fans hungry for more. His appetite for life is infectious. (And trust us, he’s every bit as warm, funny, and genuine as he appears onscreen.) Now the series star is eagerly setting his sights on dynamic locations in the U.S. and abroad for seasons 3 and 4. After all, there’s plenty more feeding of Phil to be done.
We caught up with Rosenthal while beachside at The Cloister, a stunning resort on Sea Island, Georgia, to get the scoop about the upcoming seasons, his take on traveling and eating his way around the globe, and the one thing he can’t leave home without.
Travel + Leisure: Congrats on Netflix picking up your show for another two seasons. What can we expect?
Phil Rosenthal: "More of the same! We are thrilled to get to keep doing this; it's a dream. I think I've told you this before, but it took 10 years to get the show, and the way business is, nothing is certain. But if so many things in the world — especially now — are uncertain, you should do what makes you happy. And beyond the show just making me happy, I now feel that I've made some connections with people, and from what they tell me, it's made a difference in their lives.
Perhaps they traveled when they weren’t going to. To be able to affect any kind of life-changing anything on anybody? It means so much to me. And what I've gotten back from putting it out there has really enriched my life. So I'm going to try to keep doing it."
What is the main driving force as you look to add new cities?
"I wouldn't travel anywhere for the show that I wouldn't go anyway. The beginning — the first six episodes on PBS and the first 12 episodes on Netflix — was about showcasing Earth's greatest hits to motivate people, especially Americans, who can be reluctant to travel anywhere. I wanted to show places that they shouldn't be afraid of — they're going to speak English in most of these places, there's going to be a hotel with a pillow, and recognizable food. And guess what? After 18 episodes, there's still a lot of greatest hits left. Haven't been to London yet on the show. Haven't been to Australia yet on the show.
You should feel welcome in a place and not be afraid. I want people to feel like they're not just a citizen of their town or their state or their country, but of the world! Because I think the world would be better if we started to think that way."
Did your love of travel, food, and culture start as a child?
"Yes, because we never went anywhere! Never ate great food, it wasn't a priority. So when I did get any taste of it, food or travel, it was my favorite, favorite thing. And I dreamt about far away places. My parents had the Time-Life books of different countries and even America's national parks — I'm talking about in the 1960s — and I would look through these books in amazement. I dreamt about going to such wonderful places 'cause I was living in New York City as a kid and I didn't know any better.
I try to stress this to people: You don't know what you're missing. So go now! Because you don't know what's going to happen later, in any aspect of life — physically, emotionally, your health, the state of the world. If you're able to go now, go. You're going to feel sad if at the end of your life, or if God forbid something happens to you, or someone in your family gets sick and you can't leave them... these are the regrets that you don't want because, you know, as the kids say, 'YOLO.'"
If you had to live in another country, where would it be?
"Italy. I haven't seen everywhere yet, but out of everywhere I've been so far, Italy seems to have my heart. There are certain places in the world that just feel... it's like when you find the person that you're meant to be with, you fall in love.
Even the various parts of Italy, I haven't hit a bad part yet. Maybe the Amalfi Coast is the most beautiful place on Earth. Maybe Florence is the most beautiful and rich city in terms of history and culture and food. Every time I go to Florence, it's never enough time.
So this is my love, Italy. Everywhere you look is beautiful. Every bite of food is delicious. And everyone's hugging and kissing you. What's not to like?"
Is there a destination you're dying to travel to that you haven't yet?
"India. It's such a beautiful culture; I already love the food. I have Indian friends and I love them. I love the clothing. I love everything about it. And it's massive! So there's a lot to see. And I haven't been there once. I'm running out of time to see everything. I can't wait to see India.
Also, haven't been to Shanghai. I want to do that. Haven't been to New Zealand. Haven't been to Greece! I'm sure there's more. I want to see the whole world."
Which country or city has surprised you the most?
"Tokyo. I'd never been before I went for the show. The first place we filmed was in what looks like a giant Times Square with all this neon and multiple streets merging. And I’m like, ‘This is like being in a pinball machine. And I don't know if I like it. And it's scary. And I'm from New York!’ But in Tokyo, there's like 10 Times Squares all mashed up together. I didn't get it. I said, 'Maybe I'll be Bill Murray and just stay in the hotel and never come out.' But we had things to do and stuff to film.
However, from the first meal I had there, I started to get it. It’s kind of perfect like the way a great sushi master orchestrates their meal. My joke is that if you bought a pack of gum at the pharmacy, they’ll wrap it for you as if it's for your hundredth birthday. There's such pride and care in the detail of everything. The lesson learned is that we can't always control the outside. Tokyo is a crazy mess of a pinball machine, right? But what the people can control — from their tiny apartment to the meal to the pharmacist — they make as perfect and beautiful as possible. So that was surprising.
And it's the most food-centric place on Earth; every other door is something to do with food — either a restaurant or a market. It's a food-obsessed culture."
What’s one of the greatest trips you've been on recently?
"You happen to catch me in the middle of one! A few months ago at the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, a guy comes up to me who's a fan of the show. His name is Hernan (Stutzer) and he's originally from Buenos Aires. He and his business partner, Alberto (Llano), do these rustic outdoor barbecues called ‘asados’ — which I first experienced in Buenos Aires — in St. Simons Island, off the coast of Georgia. Their food in Charleston was so spectacular, as were they, so we planned an event together tonight, at their restaurant, Del Sur Artisan Eats, to benefit the American Cancer Society.
First of all, they make the world's greatest empanadas. They're light, almost like a fine French pastry, with the most delicious fillings — lamb or salmon or filet mignon. And the seasoning, the spice… I swear they could make a fortune just selling empanadas. They are phenomenal. (I’m so excited to get to have them again tonight.) They also cook great grilled meats like in Argentina — in Golden Isles of Georgia, of all places. And I’m lucky enough to be here.
And their friend, Calvin (Collins), bought an island two islands over from where we’re sitting now (The Cloister on Sea Island) called Little Raccoon Key. Yesterday he said, ‘Come over, we’re gonna do a seafood asado here.’ So he picked us up in a little boat and in 15 minutes we were on this beautiful, deserted island.
I've never experienced anything like it. There’s about 40 acres of nothing but untouched nature. Oh, there was one couple — because you can go glamping on the island — that were there on their honeymoon. So in this tiny grove of trees, Hernan and Alberto set up an asado with incredible fresh seafood and grilled vegetables. And you're sitting at a picnic table in the middle of your own island watching the sunset. You're drinking wine. You’re laughing with friends. You’re there a few hours and it feels like you’ve time traveled or something. It’s unforgettable."
Do you have a packing strategy for the big trips you go on?
"Yes. I never pack for more than two weeks. That's a lot of clothing anyway, it takes the big suitcase. Any more than two weeks, you just have to realize you're going do laundry. Call me be crazy, but I like having enough underwear for a trip. I make sure of it. Everything else, like shirts and pants, you really don't need to change up that much. Especially if you're a guy. I mean, I'll go literally with sneakers and one pair of shoes — that's it. Or sometimes just with black sneakers, they're welcome anywhere. A pair of jeans and some good pants. If I know there's going to be a fancy dinner, maybe I’ll pack a suit, then four or five dress shirts, but I don't really need more than that. The underwear is the main thing; change your underwear."
Is there one item you always need to have on the plane with you?
"Gotta have good headphones. It's essential. And then you have to have your iPad or your phone, at least, to watch something just in case there isn't any good entertainment on the plane. It can be a jail sentence if you've got a bad seat or the flight entertainment is bad. It's like, 'Oh my God, you're doing time!'"
Is there anything else that you'll absolutely never leave home without?
"I hate to say this, but it's the phone. I don't like that I'm so dependent on it, but we all seem to be somewhat addicted. Like you'll be at a dinner and the meal is winding down, and everyone just reflexively checks the phone. It's not right. You can't wait until you're home? What did we do before? We managed. And tying back into the message of the show, the phone may actually keep you from traveling, from living your life. I see travel as an essential part of life. And it doesn't even have to be travel to another country, you may not go out for the night because you're on your phone. We're missing life.
You know the movie 'The Terminator,' when Arnold Schwarzenegger comes back to kill us all? It's not Arnold Schwarzenegger. It's the phone that's the terminator."