LaMara Davidson

The daughter of an African-American serviceman and his Korean émigré wife, LaMara Davidson’s melding of soul and Korean food comes honestly — it’s what she grew up eating.

One of LaMara’s earliest food memories is sitting on the kitchen floor in her family’s Quad Cities home peeling garlic as she watched her mother salt and wash 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 palate.

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 Gaylord Texan Resort in suburban Dallas.

While helping to open the flagship JW Marriott in her role as a sous chef, LaMara reached out to the Austin Food Bank and worked with the Angel House Soup Kitchen to find a home for the conference hotel’s excess food. The partnership with the Angel House and JW is still in place to this day.

As she transitioned from JW Marriott to Gaylord Texan, LaMara was also invited to support friend and fellow chef, Ryan Haigler when he cooked his Southern Road Trip dinner at the James Beard House.

In her executive chef role at Gaylord Texan’s Texan Station, LaMara has enjoyed serving as a mentor to international culinary students who’ve interned at the property. This experience has exposed her to the indigenous dishes of the Philippines, India, and beyond. LaMara most recently was asked to work with Marriott’s corporate culinary team to develop recipes for the recently opened Gaylord Rockies Asian-themed restaurant.

As LaMara continues to pay homage to her roots with her home-style “Seoul food,” she’s pushing herself to explore novel ways to integrate her Asian flavors into regional Texas cuisine.