It could have been easy to hate Phil Rosenthal during lockdown. As we nibbled our 65th TV dinner with more to come, he was sampling lemon yoghurt with hot tomatoes and green gazpacho prepared by Yotam Ottolenghi.
Or tucking in to a tubular gefilte fish at the Mishiguene Jewish restaurant in Buenos Aires, before splitting an anchovy doughnut with Nigella Lawson in Shoreditch. It may have been the shakshuka mini pizza at Mashya in Tel Aviv that pushed you over the edge, but no matter where you watch him eat, every episode of Somebody Feed Phil ends with you feeling hungry.
Phil – who wrote and created the award-winning comedy series Everybody Loves Raymond – had already banked two seasons of his addictive food show. But season three aired in lockdown, and he acquired far-flung fans who hang on his every mouthful.
“You know, a cynical person might say that Netflix started Covid,” he jibes.
“I hope you know I’m joking, as the death of comedy is the explanation of the joke.” Later, he talks about the struggles of a top sit-com writer who can no longer find a home for his humour.
“If you want a hit now, you need to do it with Cardi B,” he suggests. But Phil has a hit driven by his personable manner, which defies any language barrier. Replacing pompous foodie terms with sighs and coos, Phil is the gourmet equivalent of Mr Bean. He is also menschy, sweetly video-messaging both parents from the road until his mother passed away last October.
“I was away filming season three because once you get the green light you go,” he explains. “But my wife [actress Monica Horan, who played Ray’s sister-in-law] is a saint and stayed with them.”
The couple are also supporting the international charity World Central Kitchen founded by chef José Andrés, which has fed 15 million people globally since the outbreak of Covid.
“They go anywhere struck by disaster and set up kitchens with paid restaurant employees who have lost their jobs.So it’s accomplishing two great things at once.”
Phil and Monica are matching all donations through a link on his Instagram, which continues as their home city, Los Angeles, remains largely in lockdown.
“Our kids Ben, 26, and Lily, 23, have been with us, which is probably horrible for them, but not for us,” says the New Yorker who has adjusted to La La land.
“When I arrived, I felt like Woody Allen ready to order a plate of mashed yeast. Then slowly it got nicer. We never get winter and making a little money doing what you dreamed about it makes it nicer still.”
There are five more episodes of the show, “but I’m not allowed to say where we went, so I’m almost like Beyoncé dropping an album”, says the host, who now has invitations to everywhere.
“I just don’t know if they’ll be more shows or when we get to travel again,” he admits. Phil isn’t religious and ducked out of Hebrew hastily, but still has a new year message.
“I’m not going to be first for a vaccine as I don’t even update my phone until I see what happens to everybody else,” he says. “I’ll just say watch the show, enjoy it and plan your trip the way you would have done before the pandemic.This will end and I want you to see how beautiful the world is and it will be waiting for you.”
Somebody Feed Phil is on Netflix. Donate to World Central Kitchen