A humorous culinary road trip on PBS
By Don Heimburger
I didn’t know travel and culinary adventures could be so entertaining until I happen to watch my first episode of Phil Rosenthal’s “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having.” First I was drawn in by the name of the show which I heard about on my Chicago PBS station, and I thought, “Who has a television series name like this?”…but I was even more curious— “What does it mean?” I thought and thought, but couldn’t figure it out.
Then I happen to just be sitting down in the family room after supper and one of Phil’s episodes came on….it was his Barcelona program. It started with a flashback photo of Phil as a small kid…he was wrinkling up his nose at something in the photo. “Meat was a punishment,” he remembers from his childhood.
But today, Rosenthal, an Emmy award winner and a very funny guy, is visiting one of Spain’s — and the world’s — hippest spots, Barcelona. In this city, food is taken very seriously, with people in Barcelona planning supper while eating lunch, and when they plan a day trip, their most important concern is where they are going to eat. Just “grabbing a bite” is not an option here. In Barcelona eating comes first, and you have to think about it.
“The world can be a beautiful, delicious and friendly place when we travel and eat food together,” announces Phil as he begins his Barcelona food experience. Since Barcelona is located beside the Mediterranean, seafood abounds, with the long Catalan coast sheltering more than 30 fishing ports, and fish is a supreme passion with local gourmets.
Rosenthal, the creator of the TV hit “Everybody Loves Raymond,” is a passionate foodie who makes friends fast and warms up to excellent dishes even faster. “I’m Phil Rosenthal, and I’m here to say come on, you can have what I’m having.” His one-hour shows (I’ve also seen his Paris and Italy episodes), which focus on international culinary exploration, tend to grab you after just the first three or four minutes, as he investigates, samples, pokes and smells — and samples again — the culinary delights he discovers.
In Barcelona, he quips, “They start at 8 at night and they go from bar to bar eating tapas, and they’ll have three or four small plates, and then they go to the next bar— ‘Oh, we’ve got to try these small plates’ — until they’re full, which is around midnight, and then….dinner.”
Rosenthal apologizes on a late food outing that he might not make it through the evening: “They (the Barcelonians), love life. This is going to be a little difficult for me, because usually I’m in bed by 9,” he admits.
On a rooftop with new-found friends celebrating the Feast of San Juan, Phil savors a taste of grilled sausage and beef, talks to partygoers and his hosts, and generally adapts to his surroundings, shooting firecrackers off the roof when one comes sailing at him. “The only thing we can do,” he slyly suggests, “is retaliate” as he sends off a bright rocket into the sky, thus joining the aerial melee.
Following the party, he recovers the next morning just in time for breakfast, visiting the Boqueria Market where he discovers all varieties of fresh fish, fruits and vegetables; he ends up helping a market restauranteur and his brothers with the cooking, but says because of the tiny booth, “If my family worked here, we wouldn’t last five minutes.”
To add a bit of culture to the show, Phil drops in on two of Antoni Gaudi’s structures in the city, the 1882 Sagrada Familia church he started (when finished in 2028 it will be the tallest church in the world), and an apartment building—Çasa Mila— with an unusually distinctive roof.
With the mantra, “Why stop when you’re full?” Phil continues his Barcelona eating binge, devouring octopus, mullet, friend schrimp and eel, grouper and asparagus. Keeping in touch with his parents by Skype when overseas, he asks if they’d like to know what he’s been eating. At nearly the same time, his father responds, “Not really,” while his mother shouts, “Go ahead.”
Sitting down to the table at the restaurant Tickets, Rosenthal literally “hops for joy” when eating a plateful of tomato mozzarella. His last stop in town is at Vila Viniteca, where he puts on a humorous display of “jamon” slicing, devouring half of what he slices. As he leaves the store with a ham strapped to his bicycle—and says goodbye to Barcelona—he concludes that the city will give him memories for the rest of his life, and the jamon will last only about a week to a week and a half.
I can’t wait for the rest of the series — I do think I’ll have what Phil is having, and I’ll enjoy it.
THE SHOW: The PBS series features six one-hour episodes exploring a variety of foods and cultures as seen from Rosenthal’s perspective. Host Rosenthal explores culinary capitals of the world and dines on regional specialties, all the while pushing the boundaries of his palate – and the viewers’ – in his funny, unforgettable travels. In his search for the best of a city’s specialty, or one of its most unusual cuisines, Rosenthal entertains the audience while making connections all over the world.
PHIL SAYS: “My mother was not a fantastic cook; our oven had a setting for ‘shoe.’ But I’ve always loved family, food, travel and humor. That’s how I connect with people. I’m not your typical adventurer. So, I’m hoping folks will look at a nebbish like me exploring the world and trying new things and say, ‘If that guy can go outside maybe I can, too.’”
You can find out more about the show and stream episodes at: www.pbs.org/wgbh/what-phils-having/