New York City–native Phil Rosenthal—the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond who now travels the world showcasing local cuisines in Somebody Feed Phil—might just be a Central Park superfan. Phil took some time to share his fondest memories of the Park, his idea of a perfect picnic there, and what he’ll do when NYC opens up after pandemic closures.
Jessica Sain-Baird: I have to start with a question about food. What would you take to a picnic in the Park?
Phil Rosenthal: In my New York City episode [of Somebody Feed Phil], I brought these ballet dancers to the Great Lawn and we ate some of New York’s best food. It was the greatest hits of New York’s takeout: fried chicken from Charles, Faicco's sandwiches, chocolate egg creams, Katz’s Deli. I would bring everything from that episode.
That’s what’s so great about the Park literally being central—you have all of New York around it, and you can bring in any food. My happiest memories are being on the Great Lawn with a blanket, listening to a concert, and everyone on that blanket bringing New York takeout.
How does the Park inspire you?
It’s just been this touchstone in my life for great moments, including courting and wooing my wife. In fact, I'm pretty sure that’s where we had our first kiss—under a tree on a little hill overlooking Conservatory Water. Central Park is my favorite place. I've started at one corner, say the southeast corner, and walked to the northwest corner and back. I’ve done that two or three times in my life. I might be a little too old for it now, but I love taking long walks there. If I stay in a hotel in New York City, it must be on the Park. I need to be near the Park and look at the Park. If I’m working out, half the time it’s doing cardio there like everybody else. I don’t think I'm special—everyone uses the Park for so many things.
You’ve traveled all over the world. Have you visited any other places that reminded you of the Park?
You start to see where Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s ideas came from when you get to Europe. Unless you learn about the Park, you don’t know that it wasn’t there before, and that the City built up around it. It’s a great work of art—maybe the greatest work of art. It was a rocky mud pit, and they built this beautiful Park where there’s a perfect vista everywhere you look, like a movie. There are places in the world that have their own charming parks—Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo—but Central Park is special because it’s in the center of the greatest city in the world. You can’t imagine New York without it.
What does Central Park mean to you in this time of coronavirus?
I’m in Los Angeles, but my brother and his family are in New York City. For everyone who’s going through this time of staying away from people, the Park is a chance to get outside—with a mask now, of course. At least you’re out in nature. What's always been the most wonderful part of the Park is that you can fool yourself into believing you’re not in the City. That's so important and necessary right now—to be in a different headspace and not be in your apartment. On top of how beautiful it is, Central Park is the world’s best backyard. Walking around, you can feel like, ‘This is my park. This is my yard. This is my lake. These are my woods.’ It's transporting; we need that now. We can’t just sit at home and be on screens all day—we’d go crazy.
What will you do in the Park when this is all over and you can get back to New York?
Just walk. I especially love the Ramble. It's the most transporting for me because you don’t see any buildings. It's the lushest in the spring and summer—and the world is hidden.
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