Chef LaMara Davidson On Fusing Her African American And Korean Heritage To Create “Seoulfood”
CARLA TAYLOR //@ctshootsu

From her food creations to her background story, everything about Chef LaMara Davidson stands out. The culinary creative is the daughter of a Black-American father and a South Korean mother and says she was made in Korea, born in New York City, and raised in Atlanta. She grew up eating both Southern and Korean foods, and through her offerings, you discover the magic acquired from her paternal grandmother’s kitchen, and the Seoul food made by her mother, all in one.

“My mother left Korea with my father in 1971 when I was born. She’s always been a great cook,” Davidson tells ESSENCE. “She learned how to cook American dishes from my paternal grandmother and my aunts, so she makes collard greens and other Southern dishes.” 

The most significant lesson the Cornbread & Kimchi™ founder learned from her mom about food that has remained with her is the importance of using one’s hands. “We made kimchi together a couple of years ago and every time she needed to add chili and salt sugar, I poured it in her hands over the bowl,” she says. “We put our hearts into the food we share with others, but I didn’t fully understand how our hands were the most important tools. Knives and spoons can’t feed the soul. It’s our hands that are our most prized possessions.”  

At one point, Davidson was using her hands and talents for something that had nothing to do with food. Unclear about what she wanted to do as a young adult, she took a job as an assistant to a model manager. From there, she found herself right in the middle of the burgeoning Atlanta hip-hop scene, working as a promoter. After establishing herself as the go-to planner, she began organizing local promotional events for then-unknown groups like OutKast and Goodie Mob. Several years of hustling eventually led to burnout, and Davidson relocated to San Francisco in search of a much-needed break. In a search for change, she found a rekindled love for food, making what she knew best: Southern and Korean comfort foods. It didn’t take long for her to  begin selling her food, obtaining opportunities to get it in the mouths of concertgoers at venues like Maritime Hall and artists she would cater for. 

“The best part of transitioning from a career in music to a career in food was the fact that I was able to become creative rather than manage the creative,” she says. “I consider myself an artist when it comes to food especially; so being able to parlay my industry relationships into a successful catering business almost immediately was quite rewarding.”

She eventually moved to New York and enrolled at The New School for culinary arts and chef training before studying at Le Corden Bleu, graduating top of her class. Afterward, she worked almost exclusively for the Marriott Corporation, spending time in the kitchens at Atlanta’s Ritz-Carlton, the JW Marriott in Austin, Texas and the Gaylord Texan Resort. She also traveled the U.S. as part of Marriott’s International team of corporate chefs who support all brands in the company’s portfolio. Then the pandemic happened.

COVID-19 impacted Davidson’s work, as it did everyone in the food industry, but life has taught her how to recalibrate and create new opportunities for herself. In early 2020, she returned to her own kitchen and focused on developing products for home and professional cooks. Cornbread & Kimchi™ is a collection of cherished flavors from her home and heart that offers a selection of unique flours, like her Asian Fry Flour (gluten-free), an Asian-inspired rice flour blend perfect for making extra crispy, Korean-style chicken wings. It also includes bread crumbs and the signature “Seoulfood” seasoning blend boasting toasted sesame and a custom chili Asian spice mix. That name, “Seoulfood,” is what Davidson has given for the love of Korean and Southern home-style cooking. She has shown what it means to embody all the components of one’s identity and create something new that is wholly yours — and delicious. 

Courtesy of Chef LaMara Davidson

Stewed Korean Chicken 닭볶음탕  (dakbokkeumtang or dakdoritang) 

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

Marinade

3 tablespoons Cornbread & Kimchi™  Seoulfood Seasoning

1 tablespoon Gochujang (Korean red chili paste)

3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari (gluten-free) 

1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger

2 tablespoons sugar or agave syrup

3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil (kadoya)

1/2 cup of water

Stew

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken (thighs or breast) 

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1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

3 tablespoons canola or avocado oil for cooking 

2 yellow onions, sliced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh garlic 

2 carrots, diced large

2 potatoes, diced large

Garnish

2 tbsp chopped green onion 

Dash of Cornbread & Kimchi™ Seoulfood Seasoning 

Directions

To make the marinade, combine chopped green onion, garlic, grated ginger, soy sauce, gochujang, Cornbread & Kimchi™ Seoulfood seasoning, sugar, sesame oil, black pepper, and water. Mix until well blended.

Pat the chicken with paper towels until the surface is dry, then season with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over high heat. Add chicken in a single layer, and brown on both sides until lightly golden. Remove the chicken and set it aside. Reduce the heat to medium then add the yellow onions and garlic. Cook until the onions are translucent and the garlic is fragrant, about two minutes. Add the marinade, gently scrape the bottom of the pan to dissolve the fond into the sauce. That’s where all the flavor is!

Place chicken back into the pan and add the carrots and potatoes, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Watching and stirring when necessary. You can finish on the stovetop or place it in the oven covered at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Cook until chicken is done and the carrots and potatoes are fork tender, about 30-40 minutes. Taste your sauce and adjust salt to taste.

To serve, this dish is best served with rice, banchan, and kimchi. This chicken is also amazing for tacos!

Chef tips: When using bone-in chicken, using a Dutch oven for this recipe is perfect. You can finish it in the oven and achieve that delicious crispy skin. When I do skin-on chicken, I put it in the oven and then open the last 10 minutes and broil to crisp up the skin.

Tiffani Rozier is a food writer, the host, and producer of the award-winning Afros and Knives podcast, and the founder of Set the Table Media— a Black-owned lifestyle media company that creates transformative video and audio content in the categories of food, travel, culture, art, and design.

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