Phil Rosenthal, creator of Everybody Loves Raymond, is a funny guy. Maybe it’s in his DNA. His parents were funny, and his home was filled with laughter. What it wasn’t filled with was good or fancy food.
You can see how a person who grew up in a family in which, to quote Rosenthal, “laughter was the currency of the house”, could create a sitcom about the humour built into day-to-day domestic life.
But after Raymond, Rosenthal chose a path that almost seems counterintuitive given his upbringing. His next venture was into the world of food and travel, despite the fact that he doesn’t cook. And as for travel – does a trip to Atlanta for a cousin’s bar mitzvah and another visit to Miami to stay in his uncle’s apartment count? Because that was the extent of his “seeing the world” in the first 20-plus years of his life.
But in his own charming, wide-eyed way, Rosenthal struck gold again with Somebody Feed Phil, streaming on Netflix. He also has a book, Somebody Feed Phil The Book, which documents the content of his show’s first four seasons in which he travelled, ate and kibbitzed his way through 22 cities around the world. He brought his parents, Max and Helen, along for the ride, too.
The book is filled with stories from each city, photos of special stops and recipes from the top chefs he met and dined with.
Rosenthal visited Tel Aviv in the first season of his show. He made it an early stop because of its incredible food scene. “Israeli cuisine is an amalgam of the best of the Middle East,” he said.
He was especially smitten by the herring sandwich he had at Sherry Herring in the Port of Tel Aviv. He describes it as “a perfect example of something seemingly simple yet a very sophisticated work of art”. The herring was perfect as was the roll, in which the bread was scooped out. The slivers of hot peppers in the sandwich “are completely unexpected and they modernise the whole sandwich”. You get Eastern European salted fish coupled with North African heat – Israeli society in a sandwich.
He writes about other memorable meals in Israel, like the Mediterranean fish he had at the Uri Buri restaurant in Akko.
His Jewish food experiences were not relegated to Israel alone. In Buenos Aires, he ate at Tomas Kalika’s restaurant, Mishiguene, at which, he wrote, “those pastrami ribs are what happens when you put a brilliant Jewish chef in the middle of beef country”. Or the vegan shawarma sandwich made with celery root, courtesy of London-based, Israeli-born chef Yotam Ottolenghi, which he says is “better than most burgers I have had in my life”.
He was delighted by the chicken soup he had in Seoul. He ate bagels at St-Viateur Bagel Shop in Montreal where they “put honey in the water they use to boil the bagels”, he writes.
Does Rosenthal make a point of visiting Jewish restaurants wherever he goes?
“I really don’t,” he said. “It’s just that Jewish chefs are so ubiquitous. They are all over the world. You know what the top-rated restaurant is in New Orleans? Alon Shaya’s restaurant, Saba. You wouldn’t go to New Orleans to have Israeli food but if you’re smart you should!”
Phil Rosenthal is bringing his live tour, An Evening with Phil Rosenthal to the Palais Theatre on September 28. For tickets: palaistheatre.com.au/all-events/phil-rosenthal-tickets-ae1397349