Phil Rosenthal and the co-founders of ATX Television Festival, Caitlin McFarland and Emily Gipson, are blown away by local BBQ bites.

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Caitlin McFarland (left) and Emily Gipson, Photo courtesy of ATX Television Festival

In the most recent season of Netflix series Somebody Feed Phil, the Lone Star state capital receives the national spotlight for its mouthwatering Southern fare. Phil Rosenthal partnered with co-founders of the Austin Television Festival, Caitlin McFarland and Emily Gipson, to get a taste of the best BBQ spots in town. After seeking recommendations from the Austinites, Rosenthal refined his list to include well-known establishments like Torchy’s Tacos, Suerte and Salt Lick BBQ. Southern hospitality shone throughout the episode. Each restaurant warmly welcomed Rosenthal with plates piled high with flavorful food. (Proving not only that everything is bigger, but also better in Texas.) 

Season six of Somebody Feed Phil differs from previous seasons by showcasing more charismatic culinary cities within the States. The series is known to feature food from foreign lands; however, COVID-19 prevented the film crew from traveling outside of the country. “I would always ask him when he would be coming to Austin. But he had a guideline that he would only do one U.S. city each season to promote food from elsewhere,” McFarland says. Around Christmas, her prayers were answered. She received an email from Rosenthal announcing that he was coming to Austin and needed help refining his carefully researched restaurant list. 

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Phil Rosenthal, ATX Television Festival 2022, Photo by Kat Morgan

Feeding the Audience Authenticity

Once Rosenthal came to town, the group met at Suerte to catch up and film footage for the 2022 season. They began filming about half an hour before the restaurant opened and were treated to award-winning Mexican food including zesty lime-cured ceviche and smoky goat barbacoa tacos. “The thing that was most surprising to me was the lack of behind-the-scenes filming like I always imagined there would be in cooking shows,” McFarland says. “The cameras were not really intrusive at all, and the film crew never asked, ‘Could you do that again?’ or ‘Could you put the food back?’” The show’s authenticity is apparent on screen when a fan recognizes Rosenthal and calls out to him across the restaurant during a live shot. 

The end of the episode features chefs from the various restaurants gathered at Salt Lick BBQ to celebrate the show and the individuals who helped make it possible. Many of the chefs had not been to Salt Lick BBQ. Not only were they excited to try the food; they were also looking forward to seeing old and new faces within the local restaurant business. Chefs from Birdie’s, Leroy and Lewis BBQ and Taco Mafia all attended. “The group meal at the end is a part of every episode. But I don’t remember that many chefs showing up in other cities,” McFarland says. “It was very cool to meet all of them and then see how supportive they were of each other. We were invited afterward to have a drink at Suerte with all of them. It was kind of like a rock star moment for me.” 

A Family Experience

Episodes from Somebody Feed Phil have fit perfectly into the lineup of previous years’ ATX Television Festivals. Both the event and Netflix series embody similar values. Rosenthal’s show and the festival encourage community engagement, welcoming people from different backgrounds to discuss and exchange their passions with one another. “I think our festival is a shared experience. It’s about being all together and having friends around you,” McFarland says. “I was really happy to discover that’s also what you see in Phil’s entire experience. Austin is the supportive nature of these restaurants, including the people who run them and the people who eat at them.” 

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