With the current state of affairs in the world, I felt perhaps I should table writing a post about my latest favorite food show. People around the world are dealing with terror, poverty, inequality and hate and I’m worried about whether I have enough room on my DVR to record another episode of “Chopped”.
But the shows I am drawn to lately feature less how-to technique pieces for the home cook and more how food universally draws people together -- whether it’s a tight-knit family sitting down together for an evening meal, or two strangers unable to speak the same language bonding over a traditional dish in a foreign land.
Gabrielle Hamilton (of Prune, NY) described this best in her memoir "Blood, Bones and Butter" when she shares a memory of feeling so lost and lonely and HUNGRY in a foreign place, and being treated to a simple yet satisfying meal by a stranger who simply took her in and nourished her. That connection we feel over a shared meal is so strong and so powerful that I want to believe it can completely annihilate the hatred and uncertainty that plagues us today.
One of my favorite food bloggers, Lady and Pups, asked a most poignant question earlier this week on her blog: “Can we really talk about foods, without thinking about politics? Or is it, let’s eat now and kill each other later?” Her question reached further in wondering about the irony that has allowed most of us (hard-core food nerds as well as timid grazers) to embrace a multitude of ethnic cuisines at our dinner tables but not each other … we’re quite comfortable (and so forward thinking!) about a fusion food, but we’re warring against each other in every other way.
Perhaps that’s why I’m leaning so heavily on shows like Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown”, a food-focused presentation that provides a window for me to look through to places I’m unfamiliar with, showing me just how similar we all are. I feel like Tony and his guests solve so many of the world’s problems over a a simple yet delicious bowl of noodles and I desperately want the world’s decision makers to sit down with them.
Phil Rosenthal may not have quite as hefty a political agenda as Tony does, and I’m guessing he might be unable to hold nearly as much liquor (though when tradition calls for it, Phil boldly embraces most anything) but his new show on PBS, “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having” has edged into the lead when it comes to most my DVR-ed food shows as of late.
It has a lot to do with how closely I identify with Phil’s food experiences: we both grew up well fed but with a limited palate, we both had a longing for more adventurous eating, and that became a possibility for both of us thanks to our jobs getting us out on the road and sometimes out of the country. Okay, so he wrote and produced television and I … don’t do anything half as romantic. But our food goals align perfectly.
In his new show, Phil travels the globe and shares his love of food with those of us unlucky enough to be couch-perching. He comes right out and admits “I wanna be your go-to guy.” I know that guy because I want to be THAT guy – the guy all my friends tap on the shoulder when they’re looking for a great place to eat. I kind of already am that guy to a lot of my friends without their even requesting it of me (my apologies, you know who you all are).My heart, as well as Phil’s, is in the right place. We simply want to share our love of food and how that brings people together so splendidly, so beautifully! Specifically in the L.A. episode, it’s a joy to see Phil turning his personal friends (mostly other television peeps) into fans of local foods and cuisines that were foreign to them. Perhaps my favorite bit of that show was watching him turn Martin Short into a fan of Korean cuisine at one of Roy Choi’s newest restaurants. Turning a skeptic into a lover of good food completely fulfills me, and I could see that same love in Phil’s experiences with his friends. He longs for them to enjoy that amazing bite as much as he does.
I LOVE that he gets as excited about a really amazing bite, just like I do. He’s like a kid on Christmas morning. Sometimes unsure, and there are times it looks like he feels out of place, but he pushes past all of that and his passion for the experience is genuine.
Where Bourdain is admittedly a tall drink of water, sexily at home in his skin on any continent in bare feet, rumpled shirt and jeans that he obviously wore the day but still look damn good, Phil’s eyes are ever widening, his mouth is constantly grinning, and he’s constantly spouting phrases like “Wowee-wow-wow-wow” that send me over the moon in a different way I suppose. Though in the Paris episode, there's a jogging sequence he quips is "A little something for the ladies."
Phil had me at "You gotta ask for the #19!" and he's my “new favorite” because I am unabashedly and apologetically in love with experiencing new food and along with that new people, the same as he is. I will never be as cool as Tony, but after watching Phil, I’m okay with that now.
At the end of the L.A. episode, Phil asks the question, “When something is so beautiful and so simple, isn’t that everything?” I need that right now and the rest of the world does too – to focus on the beautiful, simple things that bring us to the world table together and unite us.