Napa cabbage for kimchi. Growing up, she’d help her mother make mandu — Korean dumplings — and fondly remembers the sound and smell of kalbi sizzling on the grill. She also recalls standing by as her paternal grandmother, a native Alabamian, showed her how to make turnips and mustard greens. Her grandmother’s secret: keeping the leaves whole. She swore they tasted better that way.
LaMara was able to delve into both cuisines more deeply after her family moved to Atlanta, where there was both a burgeoning Korean community and a large black middle class. Dining everywhere from Buford Highway to Bankhead Highway, the abundance of Asian flavors and Southern foods helped LaMara develop her
Leaving Atlanta in the 90s to work in the music industry, friends in San Francisco eventually encouraged her to sell her food to concertgoers at the Maritime Hall Lounge. LaMara sold out that night and was asked to return the following week to cook for legendary reggae band Steele Pulse. Shortly thereafter, LaMara moved to New York, where she enrolled at The New School’s Culinary Arts training program after a stint managing talent at Sony Music. She leveraged the skills she learned at the New School to cater for connections in the music and entertainment industries,
which included Chris Rock, Talib Kweli, and Citizen Cope, to name a few. Almost a decade later, LaMara returned to Atlanta and soon enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu, where she received a Les Dames Escoffier scholarship and graduated at the top of her class. In the years that followed, she’s worked almost exclusively for the Marriott Corporation, where her career has taken her from Atlanta’s Ritz-Carlton to Austin’s JW Marriott to the Gaylord Texan Resort in suburban Dallas.
During her time as an executive chef at the Gaylord Texan, LaMara was selected as one of twelve chefs to be featured in Marriott International’s Diary of the Craft Artisan video series, an initiative that highlights Marriott’s food and beverage talent across the globe.
Since late 2019, LaMara has been traveling the U.S. as part of Marriott Internationals team of corporate chefs that supports all brands under the Marriott umbrella. She’s also been working to develop her personal brand, Cornbread and Kimchi, from her home base of Austin, TX. Pushing herself to explore novel ways to integrate Asian flavors into regional cuisine in her home-style “Seoul food” is how LaMara continues to pay homage to her roots.