Shortly before we went to Italy for spring break, we watched Phil Rosenthal’s travel/dining episodes for Florence and Venice so that we could visit some of the portrayed restaurants, and I also started following his instagram page. A few days after we got back, we saw this post, inviting followers to post a 60-second video telling him why he should come to our city to have a meal with us. For the next couple of weeks, our family talked about where we’d want to take him and what we’d put in our video, but we made no progress toward actually creating any content. The Mrs and I flew to Austin for Mom 2.0 and got back on Saturday, April 27, and the contest ended on Tuesday, April 30. The children wanted to make a video, so we threw together some footage Sunday night and Monday at lunch, and my bride edited it Tuesday, and I uploaded our entry a few hours before its midnight deadline.
People seemed to like our video, and I thought it came out pretty well, too, but there were over 500 entries, and as far as we knew, there’d be but 1 winner.
On May 1, I went to work as usual, checking Instagram every few hours to see when and how the winner’s announcement would be made. Around 10pm, as I was leaving a Braves game, my phone rang, and my bride informed us that we were the 6th of 6 announced winners in an Instagram live post that just aired!
Shortly after that, I got a “you won!” direct message, and a day later, Phil’s colleague, David, wrote me to indicate we may get to feed Phil in late May!
“Late May” turned out to be Tuesday, May 21, when Phil was in town for an event at the new Iberian Pig Buckhead restaurant location. The day before, I told David we’d like to take Phil to JCT Kitchen after toying with a couple of other options, because 1) it has great food that’s Southern, 2) it’s in an easy to find location–inside the Perimeter with simple parking and close to my midtown office, and 3) it’s got an excellent ice cream restaurant above it if we have time for dessert!
My bride checked the children out of school early and met me at the restaurant about 12:15pm. David and Phil were to meet us a few minutes later. As we stood there, I had some unpleasant thoughts: “What if he’s not as genuine or kind as he seems on TV?” I’d texted Whit (who introduced us to the show a couple years ago) right before I left work to go to JCT, and he’d shared the same sentiment: “I hope he’s as nice as he seems.” Given that Whit lives in L.A. and has interviewed lots of entertainers, his concern elevated my concern.
A few minutes after 12:30, they walked inside the restaurant. Phil was dressed in a Bruce Springsteen t-shirt and shorts; he smiled at us, walked over, and gave us all hugs as we each told him our names. A few minutes later, we sat at a table, and he asked each of our 3 children about their ages, grades, what they like to do now, and what they want to do when they’re older. Phil and I had fried chicken and greens; he was impressed. I felt good about our choice of cuisine.
But was he as “nice” as he seems on TV?
Absolutely. He was genuine, asked lots of questions of the children, answered their myriad questions of him, and seemed to actually care about their opinions regarding his new beard. He loved hearing about our experiences tracing his steps at restaurants in Italy, Japan, and New Orleans. He gave us advice on where to eat at Yosemite National Park this July.
When lunch wound down, we went upstairs to Jeni’s for ice cream. When he had to go, we took pictures (his colleague David took video of most of the lunch and dessert; I kept my phone in my pocket), and I was able to get one picture of our children and him.
That evening, my bride and I attended the event at the new Iberian Pig, which included clips from his Barcelona episode and a wonderful spread of food from the new restaurant. After picking a table, we walked about the new restaurant and made our way to the main food table, walking by Phil, who stopped us to tell us how highly David and he thought of our children and how polite and curious they were. We chatted for a bit…and then I looked just past him at a line of at least 25 people who’d paid > $100 to have dinner and meet Phil, all of them waiting for a picture with him; the girl in front seemed particularly resentful of my approach from the other side. I felt like an ass. We walked back to the food and then to our table.
We met some local food/travel bloggers who are sisters, and the 4 of us bonded over our mutual love of Phil’s TV show, good food in far-off lands, and travel in general. After his receiving line went away, Phil came by and sat at our table, which was great! But soon meant we had lots of company, but that was great, too! We made lots of new friends and closed the event down (as I do), with David, Phil, my bride, and I being the last to leave.
I was so happy that I couldn’t sleep. The day was one we’d looked forward to for weeks; we let the children miss school for it; we had high expectations and levels of anticipation for it, and it actually exceeded them. How often does that happen? Not enough.
I’m so grateful for Phil’s and David’s choosing our entry out of over 500, for letting us be the first of the winners to feed Phil, and for Phil’s in-person persona being everything his TV persona makes viewers hope a meal with Phil could be.
We can’t wait to see the film footage and photos when they’re released, and we can’t wait for Season 3 of Somebody Feed Phil!