'I'm like Anthony Bourdain ... if he were afraid of everything'

By Gillian Telling
Updated September 28, 2015 at 09:02 PM EDT
Credit: PBS

I'll Have What Phil's Having

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What happens when you take Phil Rosenthal, one of Hollywood’s funniest and most beloved television producers, and send him off on culinary adventures around the globe (sometimes with his celebrity friends in tow) to explore local delicacies and try things he’s never had before?

For starters, a very uncomfortable reaction to a century-old egg at a hot-pot restaurant in Hong Kong. “I’m not here to sugarcoat it,” the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond tells EW. “There’s going to be stuff you don’t like. I’m not Mr. Adventure. I’m not Anthony Bourdain. Actually, I’m exactly like Anthony Bourdain … if he were afraid of everything.” As for that revolting egg? “I really thought, ‘I’m going to die now,’” he says. “I now call this cat-pee egg.”

I’ll Have What Phil’s Having, a six-part series that premieres Monday on PBS and has friends like Jerry Seinfeld, and Mindy Kaling tweeting out their support, begins with Rosenthal’s first-ever trip to Tokyo.

“I didn’t like it at first,” he says of the city. “What’s the appeal? It was sensory overload, like I was stuck in a pinball machine. But like everything else, it’s not what it appears to be.” Rosenthal was quickly won over by the beauty of the country: “It’s so gorgeous.” And of course, the local cuisine.

“I was at Narisawa, and they gave me this plank of wood cut from a tree with bark on it with this living, edible forest,” he says. “As soon as they set it down, I could hear trees rustling, birds chirping … I was like, what the hell?” It turned out the chef has a live stream from an actual forest piped through to the plates. “What?!” Rosenthal says, laughing. “This could be the most pretentious bulls— you’ve ever heard of. Unless the food is delicious. And it was delicious.”

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Rosenthal says his interest in food began after he left home and went to college. “Through no fault of her own, my mother wasn’t the greatest cook when I was growing up,” he says. “So in college I was having pasta at a dump Italian restaurant and just went crazy over it. I was like ‘What is this! These little white things in the sauce!’ My friends were like, ‘Garlic?’ I’d never had it. It’s like in The Wizard of Oz when she opens the door and it goes from black and white to color.”

I’ll Have What Phil’s Having sees the endlessly entertaining producer going from snacking at taco trucks in Los Angeles with Larry Wilmore (“I think it’s become the best food city in the U.S.,” he says) and having Korean food with Martin Short, to the beaches of Barcelona, a city where he falls in love with a leg of jamón. But his favorite city or country for food? Italy, hands down.

“It’s the whole package,” he says. “Beautiful scenery everywhere, the food, mind-blowingly good, even the simplest things.”

The point of I’ll Have What Phil’s Having isn’t just to watch a funny guy eat stuff, though — Rosenthal also hopes to inspire others to try new things, and to use humor and food to connect people with each other. “You don’t even have to travel out of your own town anymore,” he says. “There’s a neighborhood in your city you haven’t gone to for whatever reason, but all the information about it is in your phone,” he says. “Yelp it. Type in a cuisine you’re interested in that you’ve never tried before. Peruvian? I guarantee you’ll find it within 10 minutes.”

As for any dining tips he learned along the way? It turns out, crowds are a good thing. “Joes in New York is the quintessential slice of pizza, but one thing that makes it really great? It’s so popular that it’s always fresh. So when you’re looking around? Sometimes the long line actually means something.”

I’ll Have What Phil’s Having premieres on PBS Monday at 10 p.m. ET nationally and at 8 p.m. ET in New York. See below for a trailer of Phil taking Paris.

I'll Have What Phil's Having

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