Somebody Feed Phil, the Netflix documentary series following Phil Rosenthal as he embarks on an "eating tour of the world", might better have been called Somebody Tell Phil ... not to open the episode filmed in Ireland with a cheesy "Top o' the mornin' to you".
But Rosenthal, creator and producer of the long running sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, seems like a really nice guy, who has nothing but good things to say about Irish food, people and places, so we'll forgive him.
He nails his colours to the mast when he says: “The Irish are famous for their charm and humour, but their food never won many popularity contests ... but that’s changing, now the food is catching up with the drink and local chefs are turning the tales of terrible Irish food into ancient history.”
Speaking to the Irish Times from London, where he says he is "standing on the Millennium Bridge in the middle of the Thames river, on the way to Tate Modern and Borough Market with some friends", Rosenthal is full of enthusiasm for his 10-day visit last autumn to Dublin, Greystones, Clonakilty, Cork city, Shanagarry and Kinsale.
Reading through that itinerary, it’s easy to guess the Irish food and drink ‘royalty’ who appear with him on the one-hour show, which goes on global release on Friday.
“We film a lot, like for 10 days, and we have to cut it down to an hour, so there’s a lot you don’t see. But what you do see in the show are the things I loved the best.”
Garrett Fitzgerald of Brother Hubbard, Pádraig Óg Gallagher of Gallagher's Boxty House, Kieran Murphy of Murphy's Ice-Cream, Stephen and David Flynn of The Happy Pear, Sally and John McKenna together with chef Caitlin Ruth, Cork 's Takashi Mizayazi, Martin Shanahan of Fishy Fishy, and the Ballymaloe gang, all pop up along the way, in an hour-long jaunt.
The trip gets off to a faux rocky start when Rosenthal goes in search of an Irish breakfast, only to find that it is not on the menu at Middle Eastern-inspired Brother Hubbard. A plate of eggs menemen and a whole platter of pastries later, it’s clear that this Phil might take a lot of feeding.
Having had his wife Monica’s Irish roots verified at the Irish Family History Museum, it’s time to eat boxty with Padraig Óg Gallagher at the Boxty House, where we learn that corned beef and cabbage is a Jewish/Irish mash up. For dessert, it’s ice-cream at Murphy’s, famous for their “wild flavours”.
Before heading south, the show’s creator and presenter (reluctantly) embarks on a dawn swim with the Happy Pear brothers in Greystones – “the most enthusiastic people I’ve ever met in my life”. Let’s hope someone warned him in advance of the joyful duo’s fondness for turning handstands at the drop of a wholemeal vegan croissant.
Rosenthal gets his feet wet again when seaweed foraging with food writer Sally McKenna, and manages to keep a straight face when McKenna imparts the indepth knowledge that "the barnacle has the largest penis in the world, relative to their size".
Then it's off to Cork city, for seaweed tempura with Takashi Miyazaki. This proves to be one of the best things Rosenthal eats on this trip (along with Irish butter). "I eat a lot of sushi in Los Angeles, and I haven't seen this and it couldn't be better", is his verdict.
There's a long segment filmed at Ballymaloe, including a touching cameo of Myrtle Allen, and an energetic sprint around the cookery school and farm conducted by Darina Allen, the reward for which is a full Irish (finally!) cooked in her kitchen.
Rosenthal refers to Myrtle Allen as "the Alice Waters of Irish cooking", and says, "they call Darina the Julia Child". The reverse might have been more accurate, with Myrtle the housewife who takes up cooking and is hooked by the science and skill of it, and Darina the pioneering campaigner for grow local, eat seasonal and spread the message through education (though, to be fair, those are ideals Myrtle espoused too). Together, he says, they are "in charge of paradise".
Rosenthal’s first visit to Ireland “10 or 15 years ago”, was to Kinsale, for a television festival. So it is here, with a seafood feast shared with Martin Shanahan of Fishy Fishy, that his Irish food tour concludes.
He says he has seen a lot of change in the Irish culinary landscape in the time between his visits here. “I was told [on his first visit] that the food in Kinsale was the very best in Ireland, and I did love it, because it was fresh seafood. The food in Dublin I thought was fine, it was good. I found some good places. I always find good paces. But now, this time, I saw such improvement everywhere.” He mentions the combination of “indigenous ingredients with worldwide knowledge”.
He thinks that food is getting better everywhere in the world, and he reckons he knows why. “Because of the internet, a kid in Cork can see what a great chef in Los Angeles is doing and get inspired.”
So, having seen and done and eaten some of the best of what Ireland has to offer, is the reputation of Irish food abroad unfair? Are we better than we’re given credit for?
“Absolutely yes, and part of my job is to get the message out that the food is great, that everything is great there, that the people are lovely, that there is no reason not to go. I can’t wait to go back.”
The Ireland episode is one of six in the second series of Somebody Feed Phil, during which Rosenthal also revisits his original home town of New York, as well as travelling to Buenos Aires, Capetown, Copenhagen and Venice. They will be available on Netflix on Friday at 8am.