Dreamcatcher: Lany the Chef

Welcome to the Dream Catcher Series. It is a lofty goal. It presumes that we all have dreams and a hope some day to run after them. Or perhaps it presumes that you will want to lose yourself in a dream.  No matter what: Our promise to you is that if you’ve been meaning to write a short story, start an organic sugar company or simply open up your mind to other options, we’ll get your wheels turning. 

The Dream Catcher Series features women (yep, sorry dudes) that have reached for their goals, however impossible-seeming, and are pursuing them. They don’t need to be CEO’s, but they can be. They can be professional bedazzlers or private chefs. They can be small shop owners or folk singers. The unifying thread? They earn their keep doing their own thing. These are women who have succeeded by the sheer force of their own ambitions.

Know anybody like this? Pitch us, we’ll listen. Send us an email at dreamcatchers@claramaejames.com. We want you to get inspired so that you can see that people out there are cutting loose and still supporting themselves. 

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Dream Catcher Series
Installment 2: Dinner by Lany

Meet Lany: Somebody who no longer has a case of the Monday’s. Lany left her job in the advertising industry to pursue her love of Cambodian cooking and she’s on a mission to introduce NYC to the flavors and stories of her culture. 

Jamie and I had followed her to one of her jobs at a friend’s apartment in Williamsburg where she was cooking a family-style meal for him, his wife and five of his friends on a Sunday evening over the summer.

Name: Lany Phlong
Current Location: Brooklyn, NY
Occupation: Private Chef, founder of Dinner by Lany, and on the rotation at KitchenSurfing.com where she can make you and your family/friends/acquaintances five-course Cambodian meals in the comfort of your own home.

So how’d you start? Give us the down and dirty.
Growing up in Florida, I was immersed in Cambodian culture and food. I became dissatisfied with my career in advertising and decided that I wanted to pursue my passion of Cambodian cuisine on a full time basis. So, I quit my job and traveled throughout SE Asia for six months in order to reconnect with my roots and fully explore my passion for food. During three of those six months, I stayed in Cambodia, not only to educate myself on how to cook authentic Cambodian food, but also to reunite with my family. In fact, at the age of 31, I met my grandparents for the first time.

When I returned from my travels, I was brimming with excitement, ready to share all that I've learned. It first started with hosting dinner parties for friends and family, which led to small supper clubs in my own apartment that people actually PAID to attend. Eventually, with a lot of marketing and awesome clients' word of mouth, I started booking other events and various kinds of other opportunities to showcase my food. In between gigs, I interned at various restaurants in the city, because even though people were responding well to my food, I knew there was always something new to learn.   

So tell us about Dinner by Lany…
Dinner by Lany is a brand that I started in 2011 that basically offers all things food. I specialize in Southeast Asian cuisine with a focus on Cambodian flavors. I teach cooking classes privately and at various schools around town, host pop-ups/supper clubs, private dinners, and cater parties of all sizes. It's also my social media handle

What is on tonight’s menu?
Roasted Gai Lan with Shiitake, Branzino with Herb Chimichurri and Braised Pork Shoulder Curry with Fingerling Potatoes. 

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Any top-secret ingredients for budding Cambodian chefs?
The heart and soul of most Cambodian dishes is a curry paste call Kreung. It's a mixture of several Asian aromatics and every family has a slightly different recipe. Call me bias, but I think my family's recipe is pretty spot on. I can't tell you what's in it yet, because I hope to one day bottle it! 

And between now and then, are there any recipes for any cooks who may want to try their hand at Cambodian cooking at home?
Sure! One of my favorite dishes is Lok Lak. I created a short how-to for Facebook here

Any tips for people who have dreams of being a private chef? Do you think that cooking school is essential?
Prepare to work your butt off. It's not at all like what you see on TV. In real life, you're in charge of all aspects of your business. You’re the busser, prep cook, dishwasher, delivery person, porter, PR rep, EVERYTHING! Things are not going to get done unless you, yourself do it. I've trekked through blizzards, thunderstorms and walked up seven flights of stairs with a 50-pound cooler filled with food, ready to cook for clients. When you're a budding entrepreneur, you have say "yes" to any opportunity that allows you to get paid for doing what you love. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. The people that you love want to see you succeed. I have an amazing support system and I don’t think I can achieve all that I have without my husband, family and friends. Shout out to Clara Mae James for being one of my very first cater waiters! 

I don't think cooking school is essential, but if you do chose to skip that route, be ready to work for free and try to gain as much experience possible in a professional kitchen. 

It must be tiring to say “yes” to everything. How do you stay motivated?
When my parents came to this country as refugees of the Khmer Rouge war, all we had was what we could carry, our love for one another and family recipes from the country that we had to leave behind. Very early on in my culinary career, I made it my own personal mission to serve those dishes to as many people as possible. The recipes that inspired those dishes that I offer not only celebrate memories that not even war can diminish, but the story of my family’s journey.    

That’s incredible. So what has been your proudest Dinner By Lany moment? 
My proudest DBL moment is definitely when I hosted my very first pop-up event in Noho. The whole affair was a love letter to my family. I called it Yam Bai (which means "Eat Rice" or "Let's Eat"  in Cambodian) and the flyer had one of the very first photos of my mom in America. The menu featured all of my favorite Cambodian comfort foods and everyone had a great time.

Speaking of having a great time, it’s the holiday season! Anything special on your wishlist?
Blis Fish Sauce - it's Uber Fancy fish sauce that has been aged in bourbon barrels. A KitchenAid Mixer - because I really need to hone in on my pastry skills. And a pasta maker attachment for my KitchenAid - I really love making homemade pasta and I think it's time to expand my pasta horizons beyond pappardelle. 

Last question. Any upcoming projects? How can we get more of DBL?!
I just launched a take-out menu via the Homemade App. Each week I offer my favorite Cambodian home-style dishes via that app. Currently, I'm showcasing the Phnom Penh noodle soup. The broth is made with galangal, pickled radish, roasted onions and organic free range chicken. The dish is topped with succulent chicken, fresh herbs and served with a savory Asian doughnut. It’s the PERFECT dish for chilly weather or hangovers.

Yum! Can't wait to try and thanks for letting us crash your dinner party prep.

Happy Dreaming!

Photography and videography by Jamie Sylves
Written by Dina Biblarz


Because we're so obsessed with Lany, we caught up with her again on her day off. Check it out!

Shop Lany's Holiday Wishlist