“Everybody Loves Raymond” creator Phil Rosenthal is living a foodie’s dream in his new TV series.
“I’ll Have What Phil’s Having” is a travelogue — eatalogue? — that makes restaurants the tourist stop of choice, following Rosenthal on a global excursion that includes his hometown, Los Angeles.
“With food, you’re literally tasting the culture. I plan all my traveling around where to eat,” said Rosenthal, whose six-episode series debuts Monday on PBS stations (10 p.m. EDT, check local listings). Japan, Italy, France, Hong Kong and Spain are among the stops.
He’s driven in part by a childhood tale of woe: He says his mother was a lousy cook, and not just because the family was on a budget.
“Meat was a punishment,” he said. “Gray and flavorless and tough. Chewing it hurt,” he said.
This is from a man who made comedy gold out of his parents’ quirks in the hit sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which starred Doris Roberts and Peter Boyle as mom and dad to Ray Romano. But Rosenthal insists he’s not joking, and recalls asking friends in college to identify “these little white things” in his pasta sauce. Turned out to be garlic, something he’d never been fed by mom.
He’s now a true believer in food as a sturdy bridge between people from different countries and backgrounds.
“For me, food is the way in. Food and laughs,” he said in an interview, adding that “breaking bread is a time-honored tradition of bringing us together.”
Episode one of his PBS series includes a visit to Tokyo, where Rosenthal pushes the boundaries of his comfort zone. “I’m not Bourdain,” he told reporters last month, referring to adventurous celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. “No, I don’t want to eat insects.”
But he breaks that rule when presented with a dish that includes two formerly live ants artfully posed on a stem. “‘Try it, it tastes like lemon,'” Rosenthal recalls being urged. “To which my reaction is, ‘Could we just have the lemon, if that’s the flavor we’re going for?'”
But he eats the critters and is glad he dared himself. That holds true for his famous pals, including Martin Short, who make guest appearances.
“It was my favorite part of doing the LA show … exposing these friends to things that they hadn’t tried before in their own town,” he said. A reluctant Short tried his first-ever Korean dish, kimchi fried rice, and pronounced it “the best thing I’ve ever had.”
The episode demonstrates that culinary adventures can be found close to home, although Rosenthal hopes such experiences lead people to venture further afield.
It also gives a shout-out to Homeboy Industries, which provides food industry training and other help for former inmates, and prominent chef Roy Choi and his new project, LocoL (with fellow chef Daniel Patterson), aimed at bringing healthy fast food to inner cities.
(Rosenthal made a donation to the venture after the show was taped, a spokesman said. In August, Rosenthal told reporters that he had no investment stake in any of the other restaurants featured.)
As for his daily approach to food, Rosenthal described himself as a former “fatty daddy” who now eats moderately and who enjoys simple foods as much as high-ticket fare.
“I’m just as happy with a hot dog. I’d rather have a great hot dog than a four-hour multicourse meal,” he said.