Inimitable funnyman and gleeful-global-eater Phil Rosenthal is the star of Netflix’s award-winning travel-and-food show, Somebody Feed Phil, which premieres its new sixth season today, October 18, streaming six episodes. Shifting into high-gear, Rosenthal is a very busy man these days, promoting his wanderlust-and-foodie projects, as well as supporting organizations and groups that help feed people in need. He sat down with me to dish up some sweet scoops and savory tidbits about his behind-the-scenes goings-on; our interview is below.
Delightfully coordinated, his engaging and enlightening Somebody Feed Phil The Book, a companion to the successful series, is published today, too. (For book details, read Forbes’ A Fun Travel Memoir With Favorite Recipes.) Fans will undoubtedly applaud aplenty at Rosenthal’s in-person nationwide book tour over the next three months. Presently, tour stops are scheduled for Ridgewood (New Jersey), New York City, Washington DC, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland (Oregon), Dallas, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Huntington (Long Island, New York), San Francisco, Charleston (South Carolina), New Orleans, Atlanta, Charlotte and Boston. Here is more info about these Rosenthal events.
Rosenthal also co-hosts a weekly podcast, Naked Lunch, with TV writer, best-selling book author and longtime Rolling Stone journalist David Wild. Launched in May 2022, the humor-graced podcast is trumpeted as “an informal meeting of wits, minds and hearts” in which Rosenthal and Wild welcome celeb pals from the entertainment and restaurant worlds to lunch with them at one of Rosenthal’s favorite Los Angeles eateries, everyone chatting and chewing. Volleying laughter ensues. Their guests have included Kevin Bacon, Sheryl Crow, Roy Choi, Chloe Fineman, Brad Garrett, Judy Gold, Jimmy Jam, Allison Janney, Jimmy Kimmel, Lyle Lovett, Elaine May, Patton Oswalt, Brad Paisley, Wolfgang Puck, Paul Reiser, Ray Romano, Henry Winkler, Larry Wilmore and Michelle Yeoh. Access Naked Lunch on Stitcher, SiriusXM’s mobile app, Pandora and all major podcast listening platforms. Tune in and you may be able to fantastically imagine that you are sitting with them at the table. Pass the sugar and the pepper, please.
Laura Manske: Which one thing did you learn while filming the sixth season?
Phil Rosenthal: Never get into a race car with a race car driver to go around a track, reaching 187 mph! I’m not a kid anymore. When you see the race car on TV, it appears to go around the track quickly yet smoothly. Well, I bore witness to the fact that there is nothing smooth about it. [In Austin at the Circuit of the Americas Formula 1 track], when I was inside that car, the g-force on me as it took off was [like] a rocket. When the car headed into a turn, it didn’t go smoothly around the turn — the driver slammed on the brake as hard as possible. The car screeched and whipped around turns. And then the gas pedal was hit again, so that I was rocketed back again. I equate it with being in multiple car accidents. That is what it feels like. I am usually glad for every experience. I am usually happy that I’ve done them. Right? I can check it off my list: ‘Look at me, I was brave enough to do that and I lived.’ This is not one of those! I would never repeat it. The [camera crew] said: ‘Okay, we’ve got the shots from inside the car. On the next lap, let’s get the shot from the outside.’ I said: ‘There is not a next lap. I am never doing this again.’ When the crew heard that, they had to check the film footage to make sure they got the footage [inside the race car]. When they looked at the footage of me, I have never seen grown men laugh so hard!
Manske: Which one food or restaurant did you enjoy most this season?
Rosenthal: In Philadelphia, at The Hoagie Room. [It is a small private dining space, accommodating six people and serving superb sandwiches, within Pizzeria Beddia.] Nowadays, I tend to go for simpler eating joys, rather than fancy. When I was in my twenties, I would save money all year so that I could eat [somewhere special] on my birthday, such as a four-star restaurant. My parents thought I was insane. Doing that, to me, was like travel. Right? If I could not afford to go to Europe, I could afford a trip to Le Bernardin [in New York City, where I lived]. Those fancy [splurges] were very special. I have had many fancy [meals] and continue to have them every year, especially on the show. Yet to dine in places where chefs make an idealized version of a sandwich? And those are some of the best sandwiches ever? Yes. Simple pleasures are elevated by great chefs, who have turned their culinary artistry toward comfort food. This, to me, is now the peak of dining.
Manske: You filmed the sixth season during the COVID pandemic. Notable challenges?
Rosenthal: We filmed all 11 episodes [for seasons five and six] in the spot between Delta and Omicron. There was only one intended location — Puglia, Italy — that we could not fulfill when Omicron hit. So we headed to Austin instead. One interesting COVID-related thing. When we got to Santiago, Chile, we had a lot of paperwork, obviously. In Chile, when we got off the plane, the entire flight of people from the U.S. had to go through a gauntlet of paperwork. Bureaucrats checked and rechecked everything. All our vaccination records, all our tests. Then every single person on that plane was taken to an area at the airport to be retested. We were told to go immediately to our hotel and stay in our rooms, until notified that the test results came back. Luckily, [the Somebody Feed Phil crew members] were all okay. [In addition], while we were filming all 11 episodes, we were all tested every other day. When I met people in a restaurant to do a scene, those people were tested ahead of time, as well as all the restaurant workers with whom we would be in contact. Even people we talked to in the street were tested first.
Manske: Your book author tour is ambitious. You thrive being on the go.
Rosenthal: Meeting people and talking with them is my favorite thing. So this is my opportunity to say thank you to my audience for taking me this far. On stage, I’ll have a moderator who will interview me — hopefully that will be entertaining! — and then there will be a Q&A with the audience. And in a few places, we’ll be screening an episode. I will be autographing books or have some already autographed [for attendees]. Plus, there will be a meet-and-greet [gathering], where I’ll take as many pictures with people as I can.
My mom passed [in 2019] from ALS [amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease]. In her honor, I am donating my proceeds from the book to this organization: I AM ALS.
Manske: The sixth episode of this new season is a tribute to your parents, Helen and Max, who often appeared on Somebody Feed Phil via funny video calls. They were especially beloved by your viewers. That episode is tender and powerful, a love letter to your parents. How wonderful for you to have the creative freedom to celebrate them in that way.
Rosenthal: I feel lucky in every regard. Having them as parents and as fonts of humorous material. Then, having them be in Somebody Feed Phil as much as they were. And to honor them in this way. I thank Netflix for the opportunity to give me an extra episode to do it.
Manske: As you explain in that episode, your parents were both born in Germany. Your father was 13 years old when he and his family escaped and immigrated to the U.S.A., right after Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, a pogrom against Jews carried out by the Nazi Party. Your mother, as a child, and her mother were sent to a concentration camp. You have said that your parents came out of those terrifying experiences remaining kind, generous and loving people.
Rosenthal: They were remarkable in their attitudes. I am always amazed by Holocaust survivors, some of whom understandably have life-long PTSD. The ones who are able to also celebrate life, embrace love and humor, as my parents did, I marvel at them. [Reflecting on the horrors of the Holocaust], I always thought that [if it had been me], I would crawl into a hole…that kind of thing. We’re so spoiled, comparatively. I can’t imagine. It’s unimaginable. Helen and Max were normal parents. Even extraordinary parents.
Manske: One word that is central to your travel philosophy?
This interview was edited for clarity and length.
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 good health through food choices.