Phil Rosenthal, fun-loving host and creator of Netflix’s Somebody Feed Phil, joined chef Vivian Howard for an exciting Wednesday evening book talk Wednesday hosted by Buxton Books at Charleston Music Hall.
Somebody Feed Phil follows Rosenthal as he travels around the world getting a behind-the-scenes look of a city’s famous cuisine. In its six seasons, Rosenthal traveled to places as close as Nashville, Tennessee, to as far as Cape Town, South Africa. The show is now streaming on Netflix.
The sold-out event was packed with 800 people of all ages laughing in delight as Rosenthal recounted stories of his first trip to Italy at age 23 and experiencing tear gas in Rio de Janeiro during Carnival. Other anecdotes included Rosenthal writing an entire Everybody Loves Raymond episode because he wanted Ray Romano to experience travel (Rosenthal said Romano was hesitant about anything “different”). The night started with a sizzling introduction by Howard, chef/owner of Lenoir and host of PBS’s A Chef’s Life, of a highlight reel from season six of the Rosentha’s show, now streaming on Netflix. Moments later when Rosenthal took the stage, he received a standing ovation.
Both celebrities are PBS veterans — Howard known for A Chef’s Life and Rosenthal for 2015’s I’ll Have What Phil’s Having, his first food show. Their conversation opened with Howard reminiscing on her first encounter with Rosenthal at the PBS studio and their shared disdain for food competition shows.
“I love chefs so much,” Rosenthal said. “I think what they do is an art form. And I don’t think you should pit artists against each other that way. They take this thing I love and reduce it down to ‘make a Twinkie out of a chicken and a shoe.’ I don’t understand.”
The conversation continued with Rosenthal cracking jokes and telling stories about how he went from sitcoms to travel food shows. When he pitched I’ll Have What Phil’s Having to the Travel Channel and Food Network, he said he was rejected because they only respectively aired “travel adjacent” or “food adjacent” shows.
But despite all the jokes, Rosenthal always returned to the importance of connections with other people and being kind.
“Everyone has to eat,” he said. “When I put food on the table, right away, we have something in common. And if we can smile or laugh over that meal, now we’re friends.”
Rosenthal said chefs and people he meets in each city are his favorite part of the show. You can’t experience the food on television, he added, so it doesn’t do viewers any good, but you can experience the moments between each bite.
“It’s never really about the food. I always say food is the great connector. And then laughs are the cement.”
The night ended with a Q&A session between Rosenthal and his fans. Questions touched on strange encounters with people and food to advice on how to connect meaningfully with people from other cultures and how to deal with grief.
Rosenthal added that if the show gets picked up for another season, Charleston would be the first place he’d like to visit and film. (But, he joked, he said the same thing about another town, too!)
Stay cool. Support City Paper.
City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.