Joshua Walker, Xiao Bao Biscuit, Charleston, SC
The backstory: Josh Walker worked in art and design for three years before making the rounds at NYC kitchens, including an unpaid stint at Momofuku Ssam Bar. After meeting wife Duolan and getting married, Walker eventually made the move down to Charleston after frequent visits (his family had a nearby farm). Upon arriving, Walker met Xiao Bao partner Joey Ryan who brought in wine and beverage knowledge. The trio began playing around with Asian comfort-food profiles, and Xiao Bao was born, initially as a pop-up. "We wanted this idea of this comfort food that you kind of crave," Walker tells us. "Simple can be the hardest thing to pull off, but that kind of comfort is what you come back for."
Why he's one to watch: Eventually, Xiao Bao Biscuit established permanent residence in a former gas station, and its menu is doing something unlike any other restaurant in Charleston and, as Walker says, in even bigger cities like SF or NYC. "Charleston had such a good food community, but it was so fine-dining focused," Walker tells us. "We thought we could offer something new and unique." With spins on Asian comfort staples like Japanese okonomiyaki, mapo dofou (a take on Sichuan mapo tofu) and Thai pad kra-pow, Walker's food has garnered national attention for its originality and, of course, its flavors.
Upcoming projects: XBB will potentially expand to another Southern city, Walker tells us, but the details are hush-hush for now: "Until these things happen, you never know if they're really going to happen." Indeed.