The Elephant Walk's kitchens are supervised by the mother-daughter team of founding chef Longteine "Nyep" de Monteiro and her younger daughter and current Executive Chef, Nadsa. Nyep's French son-in-law, Grard Lopez, is Chef at The Elephant Walk in Cambridge. Their biographies follow - first Nyep's, followed by Nadsa's.
Biography - Longteine "Nyep" de Monteiro
Longteine de Monteiro has known a life of both privilege and hardship. Born to an upper class Cambodian family, she entered into an arranged marriage at age eighteen. Her husband Kenthao's career path saw him work as a journalist, law professor, judge, Minister of Education, Congressman, and National Assembly Vice President in Cambodia, and then as a rising star diplomat who was Charge d'Affaire in Egypt, Yugoslavia and the Philippines before being named Cambodia's Ambassador to Taiwan in 1971.
The early years of her marriage were devoted to raising two young daughters and supporting her husband's career. In 1975 the family's world changed forever when the Khmer Rouge took over the Cambodian government. Tens of thousands, including Longteine's mother and brother were slaughtered in the killing fields of Cambodia. Longteine became a refugee, her husband a diplomat without a post. After years in limbo, the family settled in the south of France in 1979.
The move to France brought safety but not prosperity. The family never intended to stay, hoping instead to settle in the United States. The U.S. government refused to offer the De Monteiro family either political asylum or refugee status because they had found safe haven in France. There was no work for a diplomat representing a fallen government. So, at age 42, with the money running out, Longteine pawned her jewelry to become the family breadwinner, creating her first job, restaurant owner and chef.
Longteine, known to friends as Nyep, has little formal training as a chef. She says she was born to cook. Her mother taught her the fundamentals of Cambodian cuisine, but, as a teenager, Nyep learned French cooking on her own to please her father. As a diplomat's wife, she relied on her instinct and taste to oversee the embassy's kitchen. Running the family's first restaurant in France, Amrita, taught her the business side of good cuisine. For ten years Nyep cooked alone, struggling to keep her family financially solvent.
In 1990 her daughter Nadsa became a naturalized American citizen. That finally opened the way for Nyep and her husband to come to the United States. Once here Nyep partnered with her then son-in-law, Bob Perry, to open The Elephant Walk in Somerville. Her talent quickly emerged. Esquire Magazine named The Elephant Walk one of America's Best New Restaurants in 1992, calling Nyep's food "absolutely delicious and enlightening." Other reviewers found the cuisine "a rare treat", and exquisite."
Committed to preserving Cambodian culture, Nyep decided to undertake yet another huge project - the production of a cookbook. The Elephant Walk Cookbook, co-authored with Katherine Neustadt, is much more than a listing of recipes. The book details the history of Cambodian cuisine and culture. Published in the fall of 1998, it has become a classic reference for anyone interested in the Cambodian experience.
Nyep is not surprised by the success of her family's restaurants, attributing it to what she calls "good cuisine" served in a welcoming manner. Nyep excels in creating both classic French food, which is familiar to Americans, and the more adventurous, spicy Cambodian cuisine. Her success is a tribute to the human spirit, the story of a woman who refused to give up and instead found within herself the talent and courage to help her family survive.
Biography - Nadsa de Monteiro
Nadsa de Monteiro is passionate about creating good food then inspiring Americans to expand their palates. She wants them to try the unexpected flavors she has known since childhood. Born in Cambodia, but raised in Yugoslavia, the Philippines, Taiwan and France, Nadsa draws on her international background for inspiration in the kitchen.
As a child she learned to appreciate good food but had little interest in cooking. When she began living on her own and discovered her palate demanded a sophisticated cuisine, that changed. Working with her mother, garnering her advice during many long phone calls, she learned to cook out of necessity.
Her path to the United States was a complicated one. As a teenager studying at the Taipei American School, she met and fell in love with American Bob Perry [yours truly]. He returned home, and they didn't meet again for seven years. They rediscovered each other in Paris and married in December of 1986. Two weeks later, they moved to Boston where Nadsa went to work as a travel agent. The family's decision to open The Elephant Walk restaurant in Somerville changed her life.
Nadsa began to cook at The Elephant Walk in mid-1992 and, as her talent emerged, she became less interested in her work as a travel agent. Under the watchful eye of her mother, Longteine de Monteiro (known as Nyep), The Elephant Walk's chef, Nadsa trained as Sous Chef. Soon she and her mother began to experiment, moving their cuisine well beyond traditional Cambodian fare. When the family opened its second Elephant Walk in Boston , Nadsa was ready to take over as Executive Chef.
Nadsa takes particular delight in combining unexpected flavors to create new dishes. She compares running the restaurant to putting on a new Broadway show every night - a performance art, exciting, but demanding.
Like her mother Nyep, Nadsa is largely self-taught. She has also studied with Michelin Chef Yves Thuris in Cordes, France, and at The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But clearly the most important influence in her kitchen is Nyep, a chef she describes as "still the best."
Gérard was born in Capestang, a small town in the south of France. In his words, he grew up "hanging around" the kitchen - learning Spanish dishes from his father, a native of Madrid, and Algerian food from his mother, a French woman raised in North Africa. Cooking, along with soccer, was the family's passion. While cooking was central to Gérard's life, he didn't initially view it as a career. He was; however, never far from a kitchen.
After graduating from L Collége Lagratage in 1982 he spent the summer running a small pizzeria on a Mediterranean beach. It was a project that taught him many things. Opening a pizzeria also gave him a taste of the restaurant business that he would not forget. When the summer ended, he went to work helping commercial builders finance their operations. He continued in that field, living in Bezirs, marrying Launa de Monteiro in 1985. His marriage paved the way for his permanent entry into the restaurant business.
Gérard began helping the family out on the weekends, waiting tables and occasionally cooking. Little did he realize that casually assisting his in-laws on weekends would one day lead to a profound life change. He decided to make his passion his career, quit his job and enroll in pastry school. He also apprenticed at the best patisserie in Bezièrs for experience. In 1991 Nyep and her other son-in-law, Bob Perry, opened The Elephant Walk in Somerville. The restaurant quickly became a huge success; the family wanted to expand but needed help. After much thought, Gérard and his wife agreed to leave France to again participate in the family business.
Gérard first began work in Somerville as the restaurant's pastry chef. Unable to suppress his love for savory food, he soon became Sous Chef. In 1994, he moved to The Elephant Walk in Boston. In 1998 Gérard designed the kitchen for the Elephant Walk that opened in Cambridge, Massachusetts and assumed the duties of Chef.
To cook, Gérard believes, is to experience life at its fullest. He brings to his kitchen the passion of a Spaniard, the sensibilities of a Frenchman and an international palate.
All three chef/owners of The Elephant Walk teach cooking classes, with new class schedules announced four times a year.