By Keith O’Connor | Special to The Republican
on September 07, 2014 at 7:05 AM, updated September 07, 2014 at 4:28 PM
There’s something fishy about this year’s Big E.
But, that’s not a bad thing. In addition to all the healthy seafood available on the fairgrounds, there’s a new game in town at this year annual fall fest. When the gates open for 17 days on Friday, the renowned Matunuck Oyster Bar will be setting up shop on Commonwealth Avenue.
At The Big E, Matunuck Oyster Bar will be offering a variety of Rhode Island oysters and clams at their raw bar, in addition to many other fresh seafood dishes prepared with a special Ocean State flavor such shrimp cocktail, clam chowder, calamari, lobster rolls, fish and chips and more.
“We are delighted to have the iconic Matunuck Oyster Bar here on our fairgrounds with the freshest seafood in New England. It doesn’t get any fresher than straight from the sea and their farm to table and pond to plate operation speaks to the Exposition’s agricultural mission. It’s like bringing the sea to The Big E,” said Eugene Cassidy, president and chief executive officer of the Eastern States Exposition.
Cassidy was referring to Matunuck owner Perry Raso’s commitment to the aquaculture industry. Aquaculture is the cultivation of aquatic animals and plants, especially fish, shellfish, and seaweed, in natural or controlled marine or freshwater environments. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), aquaculture is becoming an increasingly important source of food available for human consumption.
“I began digging for shellfish while in junior high school and later started scuba diving for steamers in order to earn money to help put me through college,” said Raso, who went on to earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in aquaculture and fisheries technology at the University of Rhode Island.
Putting his newfound knowledge to work, Raso founded the Matunuck Oyster Farm in 2002 on a seven-acre commercial aquaculture lease on Potter Pond in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, specializing in raising farm-fresh oysters and other shellfish, from “pond to plate.”
“The farm was doing well and I needed commercial dock space, so I purchased some property, but didn’t know the first thing about running a restaurant. So, I ended up hiring some really good people in the kitchen and we wound up getting very busy and earning honors like being voted Top Restaurant in Rhode Island,” said Raso, who today manages the restaurant, aquaculture farm, and his oyster sales business.
Raso enjoys educating others about how he cultivates shellfish in local waters and offers tours that begin on the waterfront patio of Matunuck Oyster Bar. And, he hopes to educate many Big E fairgoers as well.
“I’ve always considered The Big E as a great venue to get my message out to others, but we just never quite did it and when a spot became available for us at this year’s fair, I was really excited for us to have a presence there,” said Raso.
So, does Raso buy into the long held notion that oysters are a powerful aphrodisiac?
“Aphrodisiacs are high in iron, which is the building block of testosterone. There are stories dating back to Roman times about their qualities as an aphrodisiac and there is some science behind it, along with some myth, too,” said Raso.
The restaurant and Raso’s success in the aquaculture industry has been mentioned in recent articles in the New York Times as well as National Geographic and its fish & chips recently won the Best of Rhode Island Award.