“Mingle,” the assistant director tells us. “Pretend like you’re meeting each other for the first time!”
Apparently, we aren’t mingling aggressively enough for the crew of WGBH’s “A Moveable Feast with Fine Cooking.” They take away the tables around us, and unexpectedly, while I tip a raw oyster back that’s still ever-so-slightly attached to its shell, a camera is in my face. It can’t be pretty.
I’m at Merroir restaurant, on the Middle Peninsula in Topping, and the PBS show is filming an episode for its fourth season. “A Moveable Feast” follows Australian chef Pete Evans while he travels throughout America to taste regional specialties.
He’d been out most of the day with Rappahannock Oyster Co.’s Ryan and Travis Croxton, learning about the farm’s oyster beds quietly submerged under still water just yards away from the restaurant and lending a hand to crank their cages out of the river.
Each episode of the show culminates with an outdoor dinner party. The scene is similar throughout the season: A long, rustic table is set up — here on the wooden pier that juts out in front of Merroir — and guests line each side. A well-known chef cooks the chosen ingredient — oysters, this time, prepared by Rappahannock’s executive chef Dylan Fultineer and Merroir’s Pete Woods — and the guests have at it.
One thing is certain: The crew wants to get you tipsy. We’re encouraged to order a glass of prosecco before filming starts, and once it begins, Rappahannock’s Paul Kirk makes a stingingly strong cocktail with James River Distillery’s Øster Vit, a Scandinavian-style aquavit steeped for a few hours in oyster shells to give it a briny tang.
While we “mingle,” endless platters of raw oysters, oysters grilled with brown sugar and barbecue sauce, and Merroir’s signature dish, angels on horseback — oysters roasted and adorned with thick slivers of Edward’s country ham — do a much better job of circulating than we do.
The drinking continues when we sit down, as Barboursville Vineyards’ Jason Tesauro hands magnums of viognier, bottles of red wine and Foggy Ridge’s cider down the table. We get loud and forget about the cameras. Several times, the crew is forced to hush the table.
Plates of Merroir’s stuffin’ muffins — oyster-filled circles of holiday-style stuffing — and wide bowls of an earthy lamb-and-oyster stew topped with slices of redolent Sub Rosa Bakery bread are placed in front of us.
The bread was brought by Evin Dogu and her brother, Evrim, and his wife, Reiko, who join the party. We can see, off in the distance, our tall, weathered host interviewing Fultineer. Evans joins us at the end of the meal to raise a toast and do a promo for the show. When he’s done, he disappears.
Black clouds come rolling in as dinner winds down, and Weather.com’s radar shows a big storm is heading our way. We can see the crew packing up equipment carefully but with urgency. “You can stay as long as you want,” we’re told, “but we need to leave.”
Down the road a ways, my husband and I park while hailstones bounce off our car. We wonder how it might feel to see ourselves on television — both of us have appeared on shows, but one featured the back of my head and the other had a bike in the foreground that blocked most of my husband. That conversation dries up as the hailstones gradually stop pounding down, and naturally, we find ourselves talking about the food for the rest of the ride home. S