Phil Rosenthal, the Emmy–winning creator of Everybody Loves Raymond, used to scour guidebooks before heading to a new city. Now, he’s the one giving recommendations. His Netflix travel–food documentary series Somebody Feed Phil (season three was released in May), has him sampling cuisines around the world, meaning he’s well positioned to dole out advice on places to stay, see and eat everywhere from Marrakech to Montreal to London (in fact, he shared his top spots in the British capital with us – read about them here). Still on his list of places to see, though, is Nova Scotia, which he may visit this fall as headliner of Devour! The Food Film Fest in Wolfville, which runs from October 20 to 25 (otherwise, he’ll be there virtually). We caught up with the L.A.–based writer and producer to chat about the festival, his first travels through Europe and why he thinks an animated kids’ movie is the best film about food ever made.
enRoute How has the way you approach travel and food changed since you started hosting Somebody Feed Phil?
Phil Rosenthal Before this series, I did a food show experiment for a credit card company. I was booked into 27 restaurants in seven days, which is more than breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. And a lot of the places were four–star restaurants because the person I was travelling with was a four–star chef, and that’s what he was interested in. I got physically sick. So, I learned a lot about how not to do it. Now I pace myself, and the schedule is very civilized. I’m never going to eat more than two meals in a day; I don’t eat before going on camera; and the other secret I have is that I don’t finish anything. I take a couple of bites, and then I pass it to the crew, or whoever’s next to me or wants to share with me.
ER Is sharing food an important aspect of the series?
PR Yes – I always say food is the great connector and laughs are the cement. We all have to eat, that’s a universal thing and it connects us. But if we share a laugh, now we’re friends.
ER What have you learned about chefs?
PR That they are artists and that food is an art form – not just fancy food, but street food, too. Whether it’s a grilled cheese sandwich or a four–star meal with lobster, the art is in making it delicious. I’m not talking about how it looks on the plate, although that can be an art form as well. The taste of the food is the art: the way it’s spiced, sauced, cooked, sourced. Why is there a line around the block? It’s because people appreciate this art in the same way they appreciate the Mona Lisa. I have to see that, I have to hear this orchestra, I have to hear this artist play this song that I love so much, I have to eat this sandwich because it’s so delicious – it’s all the same. And maybe food is a little better than the other arts because you can eat it; you’re literally taking in the culture.
ER Were you into food as a child?
PR My mom wasn’t a great cook. She worked full–time and didn’t have a lot of money, so food, meaning great food, wasn’t the priority. It wasn’t until I left the house that I started to discover flavour. I’d never been anywhere until I was 23, but when I finally travelled to Europe it totally changed my life.
ER What were your first impressions of Europe?
PR I went to Paris and Florence and found a world that appreciated life, beauty and art. I got the feeling of an alternate way of life where it wasn’t just the pursuit of money – there was the true pursuit of happiness. Coming from a capitalist culture, at first I didn’t understand certain things: "What do you mean it’s two o'clock and everything is shut? I can’t buy a shirt?" It was siesta, which meant it was time to enjoy the day for a few hours. An idea like that had never occurred to me.
ER What aspects of Devour! The Food Film Fest are you looking forward to?
PR I want to go to Nova Scotia – I’ve never been. I know I love the salmon from there, and I hear that it is a very pristine and beautiful part of the world. If things are somewhat back to normal, I will be there in person. And if not, you’ll see me on Zoom like everyone else these days.
ER For your Devour! film screening and Q&A, you picked Ratatouille. How come?
PR It captures the details of what a kitchen is like, what chefs are like, what the business is like and what a restaurant is like. But the main reason I think it’s the best portrayal of the food world ever made is because it captures what it feels like to care deeply about food. It has not just the best food moment ever in a film, but one of the best moments about life I’ve ever seen in a movie. (Yes, I know I’m talking about an animated Pixar movie.) The moment I’m talking about is when the hardened critic takes the bite of ratatouille toward the end of the film, and there is a sudden flashback to his childhood – that is everything; that is what we are looking for in life. We’re chasing that feeling of that first experience we had as a kid.
ER How will you get in the mood, food–wise, for your festival appearance?
PR I’m hoping that the organizers will send me a sample of the food. There’s this company here in the States, Goldbelly, that can pretty much send you any food from anywhere in the world overnight. That’s how I get my favourite bagels from St–Viateur Bagel Shop in Montreal – my freezer is full of them.