Phil Rosenthal has one of the best jobs in the world: as the creator and star of the hit Netflix series, “Somebody Feed Phil,” Rosenthal travels almost everywhere, and eats just about everything. “We go to fabulous places on the Earth, and I try to get you to come there by showing you the best places there to eat,” Rosenthal told CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook.
“There’s no more mind-expanding thing we can do than travel,” he said. “It literally changes your way of thinking. It changes your perspective.”
Rosenthal’s buddy, actor Ray Romano, had some high praise for his friend: “Wherever I am in the world, if it’s time to go out to eat with my wife and we don’t know where to go, I text Phil.”
The two met in 1996 when Rosenthal created, wrote and was executive producer of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Romano said, “They took me from New York and they had set up ten meetings with potential showrunners. And let’s tell the true story: you were the second one. But the first guy turned it down! So, I went with Phil.”
“Yeah, isn’t that nice?” Rosenthal laughed.
The show ran for nine seasons on CBS, which is how the idea for Rosenthal’s current travel show began 25 years ago, while they were making the sitcom.
Rosenthal recalled: “I can honestly say it’s his fault. I asked him: ‘What are you going to do on your hiatus,’ that break between season one and season two? And do you remember?”
“The Jersey shore, like we always do,” Romano said.
“Right, right! And I said, ‘Oh that’s nice. Have you ever been to Europe?’ And he said: ‘No.’ And I said, ‘Why not?'”
“I said, ‘I’m not interested in other places,'” Romano laughed.
Art imitated life. Rosenthal said, “A light bulb went off. We’ve got to do that episode. We’ve got to do that episode where we send him with that attitude.”
Rosenthal wrote two episodes that explored Romano’s stated lack of desire to travel beyond his beloved Jersey shore, and his eventual transformation.
Raymond first notices a beautiful flower stand, and then, while walking alone, runs into two kids kicking a soccer ball. “Comes my way, and I kind of give it back to them, and then they actually engage me to play with them. Kick it around with them,” Romano said.
For Rosenthal, “It’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever done on the show.”
And finally, Raymond buys a slice of real Italian pizza.
Ray: “This is like the best pizza I ever had, man!”
Vendor: “You like more?”
Ray: “Hell yes, I want more!”
“I love it so much,” Rosenthal said. “It’s everything I love about travel, how your mind literally gets changed.”
LaPook asked, “We know what happened in the episode, but what happened in real life?”
Romano said, “We stayed in Italy, and we flew to Sicily to visit my wife’s hometown. So, we spent a week in this little village in the mountainside. The stuff we did in that episode, I was living in real life. We were in a car this big. They were feeding us from the food they grew. You know, it’s just seeing goodness from people who don’t look like you, sound like you. You know, there’s like this common denominator that you realize people are good all over.”
“So, I see this happen to him,” Rosenthal said, “and I think, what if I could do this for other people?”
Rosenthal held onto the idea, and started his travel and food show in 2018. He says he never asks to taste something before filming: “Nope, I just jump in like an idiot. And when something’s amazing, yeah, I share it with everyone. It’s also the secret to why I’m not 400 pounds. It’s because I taste everything, I finish nothing. Share everything.”
He is especially fond of a chef he met in Thailand. “It’s a Michelin-starred shack. Unbelievable! A crab omelet. There’s like a pound, a pound-and-a-half of freshly-shucked crab. It’s probably the most expensive street food in the world. I think it’s fifty dollars for this omelet. and it’s so frickin’ delicious. You never see it in America, because it would be prohibitive, it would be two to three hundred dollars here.”
Rosenthal has just finished a book, published by Simon & Schuster (part of Paramount, which owns CBS), to document his travels and the best recipes he’s discovered.
He said, “It’s these artisans, these craftsmen who take such care and pride. It’s their national heritage, their personal family history that’s in every bite of the food you’re getting. And I swear to you, you can taste it.”
As for Romano, since “Everybody Loves Raymond,” he has continued to act in comedies and dramas, including Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.”
And he’s just finished directing and starring in a dramedy called “Somewhere in Queens,” which he also co-wrote, once again drawing on memories of his family. “Do they yell? Do they scream? And are they loud? Yeah. There’s that love underneath it. You can’t deny it. There’s a bond that can’t be broken.”
… Which also perfectly describes Ray Romano’s bond with Phil Rosenthal.
“Pretty humbling now for me to go to dinner with him,” Romano said. “And when people come up for to talk for an autograph, it’s for this guy now.”
“Crazy!” Rosenthal laughed.
READ AN EXCERPT: “Somebody Feed Phil the Book”
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Story produced by Jay Kernis. Editor: George Pozderec.