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The Elephant Walk
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The story of The Elephant Walk is one of a family that has consistently turned adversity into a recipe for success that is the envy of restaurants across the nation. From the killing fields of Cambodia to an old police station in Somerville, Massachusetts, and a long closed carriage manufacturer in Cambridge, the owners of The Elephant Walk have traveled a fascinating and unique path.

The Elephant Walk first opened its doors in 1991. Located in a renovated Union Square police station, the restaurant quickly drew national attention for its superlative food. The Elephant Walk was Boston's only Cambodian restaurant, also the only one in the city serving two complete menus, French and Cambodian. Chef Longteine de Monteiro, known by her nickname, Nyep, opened the restaurant with the help of her daughter Nadsa and son-in-law Bob Perry. Getting the restaurant underway was a project that started in 1975, the year the Khmer Rouge overthrew the Cambodian government.

Until 1975, Nyep's husband Kenthao, a career government official, was Cambodia's ambassador to Taiwan. In the unfolding aftermath of the Khmer Rouge revolution and genocide, the family slowly realized the magnitude of their and the country's extraordinary losses. Many family members, including Nyep's eldest brother and two brothers-in-law were killed during the purge. Others, including Nyep's mother and grandmother, were simply never seen or heard from again. The de Monterio family settled in Beziers, a small Spanish-influenced city in the south of France. Relying on savings that quickly dwindled to nearly nothing, Nyep and Ken decided to open a restaurant to support themselves. Their modest 50-seat restaurant, financed with the proceeds of Nyep's family jewels, served Cambodian cuisine.

Opened in 1980, it was called Amrita, a Sanskrit word meaning 'the elixir of eternal life'. Nadsa became a naturalized American in 1990, paving the way for the family to emigrate once more. Nadsa's road to America was no less interesting than that of her parents. As a high school student living in Taiwan in 1977 Nadsa fell in love with a young American, Bob Perry. The two were separated in 1978, but seven years later they met again in Paris, married and moved to Boston.

When Nadsa's parents came to America they turned to their son-in-law for advice on opening a business. Their best hope was also the most dangerous option, open a restaurant in a city that was in the midst of an economic crisis. While Nadsa supported the whole family with her work as a travel agent, Bob and Nyep got The Elephant Walk underway. Nadsa was gradually drawn into the restaurant, first as a way of spending time with her husband, but later finding herself intrigued by the rich challenge of apprenticing with her mother in the kitchen. Nadsa left the travel business for good in 1993 and became Nyep's full time Sous chef. The Elephant Walk soon became recognized for it's adventurous cuisine and funky, welcoming atmosphere.

After digesting the success of the Somerville restaurant, the family envisioned a second. With the arrival from France of elder daughter Launa and her French husband Gerard Lopez in late 1993, the team was complete; the family felt it now had the strength and resources to handle a second restaurant. Together the family opened The Elephant Walk in Boston in late 1994. In late 1997 they opened a third restaurant, Carambola.

Carambola serves exclusively Cambodian cuisine and is located in Waltham, Massachusetts. Most recently the family closed the original restaurant in Somerville and opened The Elephant Walk in Cambridge on the site of the former Henderson Carriage House. The restaurants' names are like their cuisine, interesting and a little quirky. Carambola is a star fruit, tart when under ripe but sweet and exotic when ready to eat. The Elephant Walk name pays homage to the prominent role elephants have played in Cambodian culture and religion. Visitors to the ruins of Angkor Wat never forget the myriad sculptures and friezes there depicting the Hindu god Ganesh, a figure with a humanoid body and elephant head. Film buffs will remember the 1953 movie 'Elephant Walk' starring a young Elizabeth Taylor.

An original poster for the movie still hangs in the bar of the Boston restaurant. Tenacity, creativity, resilience and hard work are the characteristics of the extended family that has created The Elephant Walk and its sister, Carambola. None of the principals received extensive, formal training as chefs until after their restaurants were successfully launched. Bob Perry, the driving force behind the family enterprise, never planned a career owning and managing restaurants. Everyone involved came together to help the family elders survive. In doing so, they are preserving the legacy of Cambodia's extraordinary cuisine, and have created a group of fabulous restaurants that are among the best loved in Boston.
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