How did Phil Rosenthal, the Emmy-winning creator of the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, end up with a travelogue on Netflix? Easy. “I sold the show by saying ‘I’m exactly like Anthony Bourdain if he was afraid of everything,’” Rosenthal told awards prediction and entertainment news website Gold Derby in June. And that was how Somebody Feed Phil came to be. (This isn't his first travel show; he did one for PBS called I’ll Have What’s Phil’s Having in 2015.)
Somebody Feed Phil debuted in 2018 and went on to be nominated for two Emmys (Outstanding & Unstructured Reality Program and Outstanding Original Main Title Music) and three more seasons; the latest season dropped last week.
The series, which follows the avuncular and affable Rosenthal to various cities around the world as he samples the local food and cultural traditions. “If food is the great connector, laughter is the cement” is what he would say in interviews.
In Season 4, Rosenthal travelled to Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco, Mississippi Delta, Hawaii, and Singapore. When he was here (in December 2019), he was shown around town by MasterChef Singapore judges Bjorn Shen and Damian D’Silva and food guide maestro KF Seetoh or KF See, as Rosenthal likes to call him). Tan Kheng Hua turned up as well to hang with Rosenthal at the Gardens by the Bay. (Be prepared to cringe for a fraction of a second when the episode kicked off with an Oriental riff, though. But that's just me.)
Here, Rosenthal tells 8days.sg via e-mail about the series' most challenging locations, scenes that didn’t make it to the ‘Singapore’ episode (we actually sent him a bunch of Singapore-related questions but he didn’t answer all of them), and how best to deal with a ‘Bouge-gush’ situation.
8 DAYS: Of the 22 episodes of Somebody Feed Phil, which were the more challenging cities to film in?
[The challenging cities] were Bangkok, the traffic; Singapore was very hot; Korea happened to be very cold when we went. Every place has challenges and mostly it’s the weather but we try to pick when the weather is good in each city to show it off at its best. But, we have been very lucky.
You also have a YouTube channel called Phil Rosenthal World where you show bonus footage that didn’t make the final cut. What kind of bonus footage can we expect from the ‘Singapore’ episode? Did you eat anything else that wasn’t captured on camera?
Scenes that will be bonus footage for Singapore are the chili crab scene at Pasir Panjang and Odette, a fancy one. And what I ate that was not captured was black pepper crab.
Did you try durians?
I did try durians. I was very afraid because of its reputation — but in the night market in Bangkok I tried it, and it was perfectly good. I liked it. Wasn’t smelly at all. Then I tried it again somewhere else, and it was good there too, and then in ice cream. Also good. Maybe it’s just me.
Typically, how long a break do you have between each city? Do you have time to exercise before venturing to the next destination?
We shoot two episodes back-to-back and fly directly to next city with a small break in between. Yes! Exercise every day doing weights or cardio.
In the ‘San Francisco’ episode, you experienced a ‘Bouge-gush’, which I take it is your term for ‘explosive diarrhea’. What just-in-case meds do you bring along on your trips?
Yes! Bouge-gush! Take Imodium, allergy medication, also a Chinese herb called Seirogan which smells like tar but really helped and I was better the next day.
The ‘Bouge-gus’ is one occupational hazard. What are the others?
[The key to avoid the 'bouge-gush is to] pace yourself. You don’t want to get too full. hThen there’s normal travel hazards — losing luggage, too hot or cold. And injury like falling off camels.
What kind of a traveller were you before Somebody Feed Phil?
First time I travelled to Europe, I was 23 and decided then that I wanted to travel and saved up to do so. Before SFP, I travelled mostly to Europe, but SFP was my first trip to Asia and it has made me more adventurous, stepping out of my comfort zone.
You spent the last few years travelling and now because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re stuck at home. How do you deal with the restless energy during lockdown?
Try to stay busy. We adopted a puppy when the lockdown in LA started and have been bonding, training, and walking him. I’ve been lucky to be with my family and see friends for lunch, socially distanced in the backyard, or occasionally an outdoor patio at a restaurant. I also try to plan for the future. And, watch sports!
In Variety, you said that of all the cities you visited on the show, you wanted to revisit Marrakesh, this time with your wife, Monica. What is No. 2 city you would like to revisit?
I loved all of the locations, and would go back to every single one. I have already gone back to Lisbon and Copenhagen. I think the No.2 city to take Monica with me would be Rio.
In the same Variety interview, you mentioned, “I do want the people to watch the show with a view not with how the world used to be, but with a view that this too shall pass, and use this time to watch the show and plan where you’ll go.” What are your plans for the show, whether there’s going to be another season or not?
We’ll always try to do some version of the show. A SFP :Al Fresco that can explore different restaurants during these times that are outside and safe.
You said you are a lousy cook. But did you get to get Monica to replicate the food you’ve tasted on the show?
What I love about Somebody Feed Phil is your goofy sense of humor and its boundless positivity. What’s your secret to staying positive?
I get depressed and mad about things in the world like everybody. But I always remember that I’m the luckiest guy in the world. And that there’s more good than bad, and that’s what you have to focus on. I also find that if you can help someone else, you’ll always feel better yourself.
Season 4 of Somebody Feed Phil is now streaming on Netflix.