Tidewater: Get ready to be charmed and laugh with Phil Rosenthal

Saturday, April 20, 7 pm, Harrison Opera House

He made it clear in Ireland. The same in India. And, of course, in Tel Aviv. Phil Rosenthal of Netflix’s Somebody Feed Phil is Jewish.

In a brief phone conversation this week, when asked why he manages to insert being Jewish into conversations, into his shows, especially when no one is asking, Rosenthal quickly responds, “I’m proud of my heritage! I’m culturally and a bit religiously Jewish and I embrace it.”

While his largest commercial success (to date) might be the CBS sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond (1996 – 2005), where he served as the creator, writer, and executive producer, in Somebody Feed Phil, a popular travel documentary television series, Rosenthal is the star. In each episode’s featured city, Rosenthal explores the cuisine and highlights aspects of the culture, taking viewers on virtual culinary tours. The show premiered in 2018 and is now in its seventh season. “It is one of the longest running shows on Netflix,” Rosenthal adds.

He says he often chooses where the show films by going to places “I’ve always wanted to visit.” Once the location is selected, he and his team research where to eat so that he and his audience “discover new places together.” But shows are not all scripted and scheduled. “We leave room in the schedule for spontaneity,” says Rosenthal. “We want free time to discover the fun places that might not show up in Google searches and guidebooks. We want to be able to say, ‘Let’s go here. . .’” Sometimes, those places are the best.

Rosenthal grew up in a mostly Conservative Jewish home in New York. Both of his parents were born in Germany. His mom, Helen, was interned in France, moved to Cuba after World War II, and then to Manhattan, where she and Max Rosenthal met.

His parents’ parents and relatives, however, were more Orthodox. Some, he says, were Ultra-Orthodox. “I remember seders where it would be three hours before we’d get a smidge of food,” he recalls with a mixture of laughter and exasperation.

Judaism was a big part of his formative years . . . youth groups, Bar Mitzvah, holidays with family. But he laughs, “All punishment! I saw going to Religious School as punishment. What kid likes going to extra school!?!”

Did he get his love of food from his mom’s cooking? “No!” he shouts. “The only great thing my mom made was Matzah Ball soup. We begged to go to McDonald’s to have food with taste!”

His parents, Rosenthal says, were too busy working to cook. “Not a chef, my mom.” But they weren’t too busy to instill the importance of traditions and family.

“Our kids embrace the traditions as Monica (Rosenthal’s wife) and I do. It all goes back to family. When we celebrate holidays, we’re thinking of family, recalling stories –that’s what it’s all about,” he says.

Sharing stories is what Rosenthal, the award-winning creator, executive producer, host, and author, will do in Norfolk at the Harrison Opera House on Saturday, April 20. He will be the moderator and tell funny stories about all the things that have happened to him on his travels, behind the scenes, etc. Some highlight reels via video will be shown and there will be a Q&A with the audience.

Tickets may be purchased are available at the Scope Arena box office and Ticketmaster.com. For more information, visit SevenVenues.com.