RAW LAB is a dining and educational experience wrapped into a three-hour course by chef Kevin Joseph | Photo by Ruta Smith

RAW LAB is what local chef Kevin Joseph calls “Earth’s only omakase raw bar experience,” and you can find it in the heart of downtown Charleston on Market Street. 

Located at Port of Call Food + Brew Hall, RAW LAB is a three-hour raw bar dining experience curated by the world’s first master mermmelier (mer-mah-lee-aye). (A mermmelier is to oysters what a sommelier is to wine, Joseph said.)

But RAW LAB is so much more than oysters. That’s just the first course out of nine. Joseph calls the experience “Marine Cuisine,” a term he coined that encompasses more than what seafood has to offer and emphasizes health and sustainability. 

Marine Cuisine, trademarked in January 2020, stems back to his childhood infatuation with marine biology, oceanography and coral ecology. 

Though a New York transplant, Joseph doesn’t see himself as a New Yorker. “In a manner of speaking, yeah,” he said. Joseph has lived in different parts of New York throughout his life, but spent nearly two decades in Colorado, and 15 years on and off in Florida as he moved north and south with the seasonal changes.

Growing up in the East Hamptons in New York sparked Joseph’s love for all things marine at a young age. “Those are my fondest memories — snorkeling and catching clams and running around the bogs out there,” Joseph said. “It’s just who I am.”

Even when he was away from the water in Colorado, Joseph connected with marine life in a unique way. Working in event marketing at the time, Joseph wanted to do something locals thought crazy: a New England-style clambake, seafood party and lobster bake in Denver dubbed “Surf on Turf.” According to Joseph, Denver is a “meat town,” which is exactly why his seafood events took off. “It is such a meat town that everyone would love to see a New England clambake,” he said. 

Joseph moved back to the New York area in 2010 and recognized a big hole in the seafood industry. There was no one taking the initiative to be an authority on oysters. He decided that he would become that person. 

To achieve this, he started New York Oyster Week as a way for restaurants to “flex their muscles (pun intended) and show people with money [how] to try new things with oysters,” Joseph said. According to him, though, no one knew the difference between one oyster and the next, so he worked with restaurants, chefs and diners to teach them about the intricacies of oysters. Kickstarting New York Oyster Week, in addition to consulting and hosting other events, helped Joseph eventually become the oyster expert he aimed to be.

“It’s definitely a part of the origin story,” he added. “Covid and pre-Covid, I was going to Florida in the winter, and working in New York in the summer, developing my menu, my culinary ethic and my philosophy on food as a private chef and yacht chef.”

Things really tipped in his favor in June of 2020, when he moved to Sag Harbor, a village in Long Island, New York. Joseph wasn’t quite sure what to do while there, but he had his Marine Cuisine trademark.

“I didn’t really have any connections in yachting there,” he said. “But I just put it out to the whole yachting world: ‘Hey, Marine Cuisine. I’m your yacht chef. I’m delivering Marine Cuisine and DelicaSeas at your home or at your yacht.’”

The popularity of Joseph’s private cooking took off, and he saw the potential Marine Cuisine had with consumers. 

“That phrase is, to me, a very valuable and very important thing,” he said. “It’s part of my mission to get people to understand the difference between seafood and Marine Cuisine, from what’s sustainable, what’s responsible, what’s delicious and what’s healthy, and proving you can put all of that together at the same time and be full, but not be in a food coma.”

In all of his RAW LAB dinners, Joseph never serves anything that weighs more than 12 pounds because at that size fish become more unhealthy from heavy metals and microplastics. RAW LAB also rarely serves fully cooked food as Joseph’s way to offer meals that are bioavailable and contain healthy enzymes, probiotics and proteins. 

With RAW LAB, Joseph’s profession evolved into more than just becoming “that guy” for oysters: “It’s about being somebody who can help consumers source their own seafood, get seafood abroad, find potential opportunities for traceability, make healthier choices in seafood and make more responsible, sustainable choices there,” Joseph added.

“That all boils down to a skill set and experience and an expertise. And I didn’t have a term for that. There wasn’t a term for that. So I created that term.” 

Mermmelier. 

For more information on Joseph, RAW LAB and what it takes to be a mermmelier, head to empireoyster.com.


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