A blend of food and comedy in ‘The Dish’

Jenny Splitter’s play takes on food TV and culture.


Catherine Deadman and Jonathan Wong (right) in a promotional photo for the production "The Dish" at the 2014 Capital Fringe Festival. (Jenny Splitter/Jenny Splitter)

Regardless of what is on your plate, chances are, Jenny Splitter is judging you.

Cupcakes?

“Ridiculous.”

Artisanal toast?

“The epitome of ridiculousness.”

Artisanal anything?

“We can’t use that word anymore.”

Splitter, a blogger and playwright, has watched the D.C. food scene evolve in the past decade into something altogether new. While she acknowledges that, overall, the changes have been beneficial, she can’t help but rant.

“I have kind of a love-hate thing, I guess,” she said. “We do things really big [in D.C.]. Do we need foie gras burgers everywhere? There are just things that get on my nerves, but that I have to have people say for me on stage.”

“The Dish,” Splitter’s contribution to this year’s Capital Fringe Festival, is a vehicle for those rants. The play is a food TV talk show modeled in part after “The Chew,” ABC’s food-and-lifestyle show co-hosted by D.C. celebrity chef Carla Hall. But Food Network fans will see echoes of other top shows in the script, as well: “MasterChef,” “Chopped,” and personality-driven cooking shows like “Paula’s Home Cooking.”

That show’s star, Paula Deen, also provided the inspiration for Splitter’s main character: We meet Rhonda Lee, the fictional show’s host and a chef known for her Asian food even though she does not have an Asian heritage, just as she’s embroiled in a scandal. She and her cohort — her producer, sous-chef and a cynical food blogger — keep it together on camera, but behind the scenes and at commercial breaks, devolve into squabbles.

But unlike “The Chew,” “The Dish” is a local food talk show, so Splitter also brings in one guest star from the D.C. food industry for an interview segment every night. Among them: Food blogger and photographer Mykl Wu, The Post’s deputy Food editor, Bonnie S. Benwick, and Teddy Folkman, chef of H Street’s Granville Moore’s and onetime contestant on “The Next Food Network Star.”

“I gave them carte blanche to ask me anything, whether it’s embarrassing, personal or whatnot,” said Folkman, who even has a bit of college acting experience. He expects to get some questions about his time on TV, including an incident in which a woman assaulted him on the street after seeing an episode of the show edited to play up an argument Folkman had with a female contestant.

“[The elderly woman] started hitting me,” he said. “I was saying, ‘It’s just a show!’ ”

The best thing about being onstage, says Folkman, is that such misrepresentations and editing tricks are impossible.

“You have nothing to hide,” he said. “Everything that happens, you are responsible for — not editors, producers, writers and all of those people.”

You’ll get to see Folkman and the actors cook, as well. Inspired by “Iron Chef” and “Chopped,” one segment of the show will be a cooking challenge with mystery ingredients, which might include ramen, whipped cream — or even borscht. Members of the audience will be called upon to judge their improvised creations, which will inevitably be prepared cold — Splitter isn’t allowed to use any equipment that poses a fire hazard, like a hot plate.

She does not anticipate their creations will taste good, but that’s kind of the point. As she was working on the show, she and her cast sought inspiration from blogs that were less food porn and more like food snuff, such as This Is Why You’re Fat and a series of poorly plated photos tweeted by dining expert Martha Stewart last year. They’ve been snacking on Funyuns, which have worked their way into the plot.

Splitter also cited a Post story by Bread Furst baker Mark H. Furstenberg, “What’s missing from D.C.’s food scene? A lot” as an inspiration. Though the D.C. dining scene may be on the upswing, one gets the sense that Splitter likes taking the wind out of its sails. As with her 2013 Fringe play, “H Street Housewives,” she has a keen sense of observation in regard to D.C.’s sense of self-importance.

For example, on the trend of restaurants boasting about their reclaimed decor: “I think the food is what makes a restaurant . . . It is not the exposed brick walls.”

On 14th Street: “I went to a bar and got some attitude, and I was like, ‘What? What’s going on here?’ Like, I can’t hang in this neighborhood, it’s too fancy for me.”

On “foodies”: “It’s funny the way you get worn down. When the word ‘foodie’ was coming out, I was just like, I hate that word. It was just ridiculous. But now I’m like, okay, fine, I’m a foodie, I’ll just take it.”

And as a foodie, she knows all too well that this subject is a trifle — and not the edible kind.

“One of the things I love about food is that no one can really be right. I have all of these food rules, like you cannot put cream cheese on sushi — that is wrong,” she said. “That’s the great thing, that you can be completely crazy about it, and it’s not serious subject.”

But if she could have it her way, we could at least all stop being quite so precious about what we eat.

“I think there’s a bit of a backlash against all of that now,” said Splitter. “Just eat the food.”

“The Dish” July 12, 20, 22, 25 and 27 at the Goethe-Institut, 812 Seventh St. NW. $17, with $5 Fringe button. Call 866-811-4111 or visit www.capitalfringe.org.

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.
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