Photo: David Strauss Photography

Shuai Wang brings globe-spanning style (and attitude) to the Lowcountry cuisine of his adopted city.

Shuai Wang was feeling burned out on New York. After a seven-year grind, the Beijing-born, Queens-raised chef was looking for a change of scenery. So when a friend offered him a position at his upcoming restaurant in South Carolina, Shuai jumped at the opportunity.

The only problem? The restaurant never happened. Minor setbacks devolved into permanent delays, and Shuai and his wife, Corrie, found themselves both jobless in unfamiliar terrain. But even in their short time in Charleston, the two had experienced a sense of community that had eluded them in New York. Fellow chefs, such as Fig's Jason Stanhope, championed early pop-up efforts, bonds with local farmers and fishermen were forged, and the Wangs vowed to remain in the South.

Since debuting their Short Grain food truck in 2014, the two have made onigiri (triangular rice balls) and chirashi (rice bowls scattered with fish) the talk of shrimp-and-grits country. Shuai weaves together elements from his background and from the place he now calls home. Take, for instance, his B.K.T.—a bao bun stuffed with country-fried bacon, kale, and local tomatoes. Or his Southern Veggie Poke, a riff on the Hawaiian classic that substitutes seasonal produce such as turnips and butter beans for seafood.

 Photo: Brian Stetson

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"We use a lot of weird-sounding sauces and ingredients. But I'm presenting those ideas in a context that's familiar," Shuai says.

When considering Short Grain's success, he's quick to connect the dots between the traditional moorings of Japanese, Chinese, and Lowcountry fare.

"I'm a Chinese chef trained in Japanese cooking," Shuai says. "With both, there's so much heritage and familial influence. It's the same thing with Charleston. The way they're making collard greens today is the same way they were making them 50 years ago."

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Meet Shuai

Age: 29
Experience: Joseph Leonard and Chez Sardine (now Bar Sardine) in New York
Career catalyst: High school teacher lent him a copy of Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential
Hindsight: "I wanted to live Bourdain's rock-star lifestyle. Basically I got into it for all the wrong reasons."
Biggest misstep: Serving miso-roasted salmon heads … out of a food truck.
Salmon heads sold: 1

 Photo: Greg Dupree; prop styling: Claire Spollen; food styling: Chelsea Zimmer

Make the Recipe

Wang's Southern Veggie Poke is a riff on the Hawaiian classic that substitutes seasonal produce such as turnips and butter beans for seafood.

Recipe: Southern Veggie Poke