Phil Rosenthal and Daughter Lily Find Their Jewish Joy Through Food – Kveller
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Phil Rosenthal and Daughter Lily Find Their Jewish Joy Through Food

Kveller talked to the father-daughter duo about babka, Yom Kippur and their first children's book, "Just Try It!"


As someone who grew up in a family business (an Israeli ice cream business, to be more precise), I know that mixing family and work isn’t always as easy as you’d think. But in the case of the Rosenthal family, it has absolutely been worth it.

Producer and writer Phil Rosenthal has long worked with his family — on the set of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” the hit comedy show he created and executive produced for nine years, and for seven seasons on his beloved and appetizing Netflix show “Somebody Feed Phil,” on which he brought his parents, Max and Helen, may their memories be for a blessing, his brother, Richard, his wife, Monica, and his two children, Lily and Ben, behind and in front of the camera. Doing so made these shows even more charming and authentic and pleasurable to watch.

And now, he’s branching out into the kids’ book market in a delightful family project: a book co-written with his daughter, 26-year-old influencer, actor writer and food entrepreneur Lily Rosenthal (who you can also see in the new season of “Somebody Feed Phil!”) called “Just Try It!,” which is the first book in the Phil & Lil series.

In the book, charmingly illustrated by Luke Flowers, Phil and Lil(y) visit a fair with food trucks, and young Lily scoffs at every food — from bagels with schmear to pretzels with mustard and Peking duck. Her dad reminds her of their family rule — “just try it!” — and as Lil reluctantly agrees to sample the diverse offerings, she realizes that she almost missed out on a truly delicious experience.

The father and daughter duo recently chatted with Kveller about picky eaters, working together, what it means to be a Jewish person right now and whether or not Phil is the most comforting Jewish dad on TV (spoiler alert: He is!). The conversation left us very, very hungry — which is good because they also left us with some very helpful Jewish food tricks and tips.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

So nice to hear from you guys!

Phil: We’re kvelling!

Lily: All we do is kvell!

All I do is kvell! And tell my children just to try food!

Phil: We’re hearing that you’re not alone.

Actually, I read your book to my 5-year-old old and then a little later, he didn’t want to eat something and my husband was like, “Phil and Lil say you have to just try it!” and he did.

Phil: That’s the first use of our book that we’re hearing about!

Lily: Thank you so much for letting us know, that makes us feel so good.

Was this really a line that you grew up hearing a lot? My Jewish parents were “just try it” people and I’m mostly a “just try it” mom.

Lily: My mom actually had a rule. If you didn’t want to try, let’s say, the broccoli that was being served at dinner, she would say, “OK, that’s fine. You’ll have a ‘no, thank you portion.'” And that would mean you would get just a little bit of the thing that you just said you don’t want.

Phil: She’s very clever, that wife!

Lily: It progressed into my dad saying, “You just have to try everything once, and then if you don’t like it, that’s fine.” But you can’t miss out on a food because of the fear.

Phil: Because what if you like it and what if it becomes your favorite thing?! Then you’d hate to know that you missed out on something and you didn’t try until you were so old and you go, Oh, I could have been eating this my whole life!

Exactly! Did Max and Helen have a “just try it” rule?

Phil: Yeah, it was called “you have to!” That was my parents. You’re not getting up until you eat the whole thing. It wasn’t just try it — it was just finish it!

There are hungry children out there!

“Just try it” is the Reform version; the Orthodox version is “just finish it.”

I love that you included bagels in the book as some Jewish food rep. Was that a conscious choice?

Lily: Absolutely.

Phil: I would say absolutely also, but it’s just who we are. Like we weren’t trying to be overt…

Lily: Overtly Jewish. We happen to be Jewish, and we love it. And so we love a bagel and lox, naturally.

Phil: Wouldn’t you say that a bagel and lox is our best ambassador in the world?

Truly! I loved that you included the red onion and the tomatoes…

Phil: We were just saying how you got to put the cream cheese first, then your capers. What were you saying? You smush them?

Lily: OK, I just have a little PSA for all the people reading this: People, stop putting your capers last! They’re gonna fall off. What you have to do is after you have your bagel perfectly toasted, you put the cream cheese and then the capers and you kind of pack them into the cream cheese so they really stay in and then tomato, onion, and lox last. It doesn’t look as pretty for the photo, but it will be better for your dining experience.

They’re just keeping the capers safe there…

Lily: Exactly!

Phil: You keep everything safe! You can have anything you want on there as long as the lox is your blanket.

What is your bagel of choice? What’s your favorite bagel place?

Phil: That’s easy.

Lily: Courage Bagels in LA, by our friends Chris and Ari. And it is the best bagel I’ve ever had.

Phil: It’s not just us saying this. I’m from New York, right? And I grew up a good part of my life in Rockland. I was a New York snob, especially about bagels. But the New York Times wrote that the best bagels in America are now in California. Sorry, New York! They actually put that as a headline. The first sign to many people that the New York Times might be failing, but every single person I bring to Courage Bagels, from New York, they bite in and they go, “This is the best bagel I ever had in my life.”

Do you have any other favorite Jewish food aside from bagels? 

Phil: Of course! Everything. I love the whole cuisine. I grew up with it.

Lily: I love herring.

Phil: Yes. Nobody loves Russ & Daughters more than us. Nobody loves Zabar’s more than us. We love everything on the shelf. We could live there.

Lily: My favorite from Russ and Daughters is the pickled herring sampler. All the different types of herring that they have — that’s the best. And then the chocolate babka from Zabar’s is the best chocolate babka. Oh, and then also—

Phil: Breads Bakery!

Lily: Zabar’s is a little gooey-er.

Phil: If you take a slice of babka and put it in the microwave for about 15 seconds, it gets gooey.

Lily: I think if you put it in the microwave for about 15 seconds, but with a damp paper towel it gets soft and moist.

Phil: Oh, that’s nice.

Lily: It’s very nice.

Phil: What about babka French toast?

Lily: What about chocolate chip challah French toast? OK, now we’re just talking.

Sorry, I was just drooling on my keyboard. OK, asking for a friend: Is it a Jewish dad thing to only think when you finish your meal about what the next meal is going to be?

Lily: Planning the next meal while you’re eating something else? Yeah.

Phil: I’m not saying that we own that, but we do it.

Lily: [in a truly incredible impression of Phil] As we’re having breakfast, asking, “What are we going to have for lunch? And what should we do for dinner? What are we going to do?” It’s a lot of that in our family.

Phil: Especially when you travel, you want to have some of the things set so you don’t miss out. But I also leave room in the schedule, not just for the show. But for life. I don’t want to over-plan, so we have a couple of openings in case we hear about something or a spur-of-the-moment thing comes up, right? That’s an important thing in life.

To be able to go with the flow!

Phil: You gotta pivot! You gotta live in the moment!

You don’t want to miss that dish because you were so firm in your plans and your itinerary.

Phil: It all goes to having an open mind. Just try it! It’s all the same philosophy.

Lily: He actually has a phrase for when something happens to go perfectly well when we’re on vacation — he calls it “vacation magic.” Like, when the place you didn’t expect to go to happens to be your favorite of the whole trip.

What was it like working on a book together? What is your work relationship like?

Phil: Terrible! No, it was gorgeous. It’s lovely. All lovely. Everything with Lily is lovely and fun and nice and sweet. Because she’s fun and nice and sweet.

Lily: Thanks, Dad! It was really fun. We get to travel and work together on “Somebody Feed Phil,” so that’s always been fun. But to get to work on something from the comfort of our home was just as fun. That’s what we’re learning.

I just read that there’s gonna be a Max and Helen diner. I’m so excited.

Phil: Yes, it’s kind of been a passionate dream of mine for a long time. Because I love my little neighborhood in Los Angeles. There’s a street called Larchmont Boulevard, and I don’t want to see it gentrify completely. I want to have something old school. I believe that diners are really important in our world. They’re the centers of the community sometimes and they’re kind of disappearing. So I think it’s something to be preserved. Plus, I love them.

Yes, there’s nothing like a good diner.

Phil: And if you can make the food really good, if you can elevate the comfort foods from childhood by just using great ingredients and technique…

Is there going to be matzah ball soup on the menu?

Phil: Helen’s matzah ball soup will be on the menu and Max’s fluffy eggs.

That’s so moving. What do you think they would say about “Just Try It?”

Phil: They’d be proud that I did it with Lily. They were so in love with Lily. They kind of liked me, I think. But they’d love that we did it together. And then my mother would be the first to point out that I didn’t eat anything when I was a kid!

Lily: [Doing an excellent Helen impression] “Oh, that’s funny that you should say such a thing when I had to try so hard to feed you!”

Phil: And my father would say “maybe it was the chef!”

I love the illustrations in the book. They’re so charming, and the food looks very appetizing, which I think is very important. 

Lily: That’s all thanks to Luke.

Phil: We can’t draw either. We can’t cook, we can’t draw.

Lily: What can we do? What do we do??

Phil: Nothing. Eat!

I once wrote that Phil is the most comforting Jewish dad on Netflix. Can you confirm, Lily?

Lily: I can 100% confirm. He’s the best dad and he’s the best Jewish dad, too. It’s both. It goes hand in hand.

Do you feel like Phil is a more typical Jewish dad or atypical Jewish dad? Sorry, Phil.

Phil: I guess typical. I don’t think I’m special, really.

Lily: He says “oy” a lot.

Phil: I feel like I inherited that from my dad, the Jewish dad part.

I feel like there’s more kvelling though than kvetching in “Somebody Feed Phil.”

Phil: I leave the kvetching to Larry David. This is my show. This is “Why Curb Your Enthusiasm?!”

Do you ever get hangry?

Lily: I’m gonna answer this one instead of him. I’ve had a front-row seat at the hangry incidents. The holiday that I will bring up is Yom Kippur.

Phil: Our hangriest holiday.

Lily: Now we have a rule in our family: Don’t go near Dad during the fasting. He kind of hides away. He watches movies all day and you do not want to interrupt the movie. If he goes to the bathroom in the middle, you want to be out of that hallway. He gets so hangry. The other thing is when he knows he has a very exciting dinner that night he will skip lunch and eat a very small breakfast so he’s really ready for that dinner. The car ride there — not pleasant. But then once the food is coming, and Phil is happy, everyone is happy. And hangry goes away. And we have our dad back.

Phil: This could be our next book.

I always tell my kid when he’s cranky: I think you might be hangry.

Lily: Instead of “The Hungry Hungry Hippo,” “The Hangry Hangry Daddy: A Yom Kippur Special.”

I love that! Please make it happen.

Phil: Do you know what the worst thing you can do on Yom Kippur is?

What is it?

Phil: Be late to the breaking of the fast. There’s no greater sin in the bible — my bible.

Lily: Your bible — in fact, you should write your own.

So, it’s a very complicated moment to be a Jewish person in the world…

Phil: Oh yeah.

How are you doing? How are you finding Jewish joy?

Lily: How am I finding Jewish Joy right now… I would say by just being with our friends and all eating together. Being happy all together.

Phil: I am for all innocent people. It’s a very complex and complicated issue. Anyone who thinks they know everything doesn’t know the whole story.

That’s definitely been my viewpoint. I don’t know everything and I was born and raised in Israel.

Phil: You’d have to have lived thousands of years to really know it. So, everyone has had terrible losses.

Lily: One of my childhood best friends was killed October 7, at the Nova Music Festival, and I think about her every day.

I’m so sorry, Lily.

Lily: We’re finding comfort in all being together. And putting out this book has been such a joy, getting to spend this time with my dad. You learn a lot from that. One takeaway is never take your time for granted.

Phil: In this new season [of “Somebody Feed Phil”], we go to Dubai, and over 80% of the population in Dubai is immigrants. I ate at what I was told was one of the best restaurants in Dubai, this was back in last April. And it’s from a Palestinian woman. And she was so sweet and so kind to me. She made food with her hands. Literally from her hands, I ate this food, and I got emotional. It was really beautiful. And we are friends.

That’s so beautiful.

Phil: I can’t wait for people to see that. Because it’s the only answer I have to what’s happening.

Right, to have these kinds of personal moments of connection.

Lily: Exactly. We are not at liberty to talk politics, because we haven’t gone through enough of an education course to speak on it. But we can speak from our own personal experience, and that’s where we are.

Phil: I mean, listen, you’d never believe it from watching the news, but most people are really nice.

You can make a connection with anyone.

Phil: Especially through food.

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