Globetrotting American TV presenter and Everybody Loves Raymond creator Philip Rosenthal thought he’d gone to heaven when he first visited the City of Light…
“When I’m asked to think about holidays, I think about my first time in Europe. I had never travelled anywhere, really, growing up. When I was a kid, we didn’t have enough money to travel so I went to Florida once, and I think I went to Atlanta once, and then I never went anywhere else.
When I graduated college, I was a courier a few times for a company called DHL. Do you have that in Australia? It was my opportunity to travel. So back when they started, they would send their cargo as the passengers’ excess baggage on a commercial flight. So they would hand you the ticket stubs for the baggage. There would be like 30 of them and when you got off the plane, wherever you were headed to, you would look for the man in the airport with the DHL sign. You would give him the ticket stubs and you would go on your way. And then two weeks later, you would come back and do the same thing, coming back to, in my case, New York. And the flight was free! It was a coach ticket. And it was my ticket from New York to all over the world.
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The first place I went with DHL was Frankfurt, Germany. It was 1983 and my friend had done the same thing the day before, taking the flight to Frankfurt. I was only there for a few hours, as that wasn’t really the plan. I handed over the stubs and I met my friend and we hopped on a train and went right to Paris. Frankfurt – it did seem fine, but it certainly, I think it’s fair to say, can’t hold a candle to Paris.
It blew me away. I could not believe how gorgeous Paris was, how much I loved the city, how much I felt it was like a different world. It was all of a sudden opening up a picture book or staring at a painting and stepping into it for me, having never been anywhere, and I had only seen Paris in the movies.
I couldn’t imagine that this was real. And then when I started to eat, the flavours were just exploding in my head – I thought this was heaven. But it was just the beginning.
With my friend we got on another train that took us overnight to Florence, Italy. So, this was the same trip, where I discovered both Paris and Florence. In that train compartment I met two Italians, a couple, Dania and Dario. They wrote down places to go and things to eat. We stayed up all night drinking and telling stories. She spoke a little English; he didn’t speak any. We became friends that night. They worked in their family bakery in Florence and, of course, I went, and I ate, and I baked. And, you know, I’m still friends with them, for more than 35 years now.
I had a reunion with them. I hadn’t seen them in a while. We’d lost touch because I moved to California. It’s not really an excuse. I don’t know why you lose touch with people, but they moved, I moved and back then you couldn’t find people so easily. But then we found them. My wife, Monica, surprised me when we were filming the episode we did for I’ll Have What Phil’s Having, which was the precursor to Somebody Feed Phil. We captured our reunion at their bakery, Antico Forno Giglio, in that show. We reconnected, they met our children and we met theirs, and that remains my favourite episode of everything we’ve done so far.
Between Somebody Feed Phil and I’ll Have What Phil’s Having, I have done 28 episodes and that hasn’t scratched the surface of the Earth yet. But Florence and Italy on that first time was something. And I would have to say that all these years later Italy has become my absolute favourite place on Earth, of everywhere so far that I’ve been. It’s the food, yes, but the architecture, the land, and the people.”
Series 1-4 of Somebody Feed Phil is streaming on Netflix.
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