Growing up on the island of Trinidad, Assue developed a unique perspective on cooking, thanks in part to his parents, who came from diverse backgrounds. His father, was from Hong Kong, and his mother, who is of West Indian and Syrian descent, raised Assue on typical Trinidadian dishes such as fish stews, rice and beans, onions and bread, vegetables, and plantains, as well as authentic Chinese cuisine.
As a child, Assue was drawn to the smells, tastes, and textures presented at the dinner table. During family outings at friends’ houses, he was more intrigued by the foods his parents were eating than the foods presented at the kids’ table. His father recognized his son’s interest and connected him with the culinary community in Trinidad, where he began to learn about Chinese cooking. “My father set me up with a job at a local Chinese restaurant, where I learned how to coax great flavor out of simple ingredients,” he says. “It’s really those early encounters with cooking that led me to pursue a career as a chef.”
After completing a six-month cooking program at the Trinidad & Tobago Hospitality and Tourism Institute when he was still teenager, Assue’s culinary curiosity landed him a full-time job working at a local Chinese restaurant. An intense desire to improve his skills motivated him to be at work six hours early, practicing how to make sauces and butcher meat.
Peter then went on to work in fine dining establishments, both Asian and French. When he was 23, Assue started his studies at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY. Then, in 1985, he was recruited by Chef Leon Dhaenens, an instructor who recommended only the most promising students for employment with his friend, Chef Charlie Palmer. “I feel incredibly lucky to have been mentored by one of the most talented chefs in New York,” he says. “Chef Palmer really took me under his wing and helped me recognize my potential as a culinarian.”
Under the tutelage of Palmer, who was the executive chef of the River Café in Brooklyn at the time, Assue continued to develop his skills and build on his boundless enthusiasm for cooking. After working at the River Café for a year, Assue left to work with Palmer at Periyali, a Greek restaurant for which Palmer was a consultant. Assue found that the flavorings and cooking techniques in Greek cuisine were not all that different from what he grew up eating in Trinidad. He was familiar with the various herbs and seasonings, as well as many of the ingredients that are essential to Greek cuisine.
After one year at Periyali, Assue opened Aureole with Palmer, where he gained experience working all stations in the kitchen. Palmer then suggested Assue take on more responsibility, moving him to the head chef position at the Chef’s and Cuisiniere’s Club, owned by Palmer and his chef-colleagues Rick Moonen and Frank Crispo. This high-profile role at the “CC” Club, as it came to be known, challenged Assue to balance the ideas of the three talented chefs in addition to pleasing the guests who filled the dining room each evening and the media who were eager to review the celebrity-chefs’ restaurant. The restaurant was designed to be a hangout for Chefs as well, and regular guests included Jean George, Grey Kunz, and Tom Valente, amongst others. Assue, in fact, loved the challenge and stayed on for three successful years, adding the flavors of both Italian and American cuisine to his repertoire.
When restaurateur John Livanos of Oceana in Manhattan and the Livanos Restaurant Group caught wind of Assue’s accomplishments, he knew he had a great opportunity for the talented young chef. Assue soon accepted his next challenge: executive chef of the Livanos’ City Limits diner in White Plains, NY. When Livanos created this “fine diner” concept, his only requirements were that they served breakfast all day, as well as offered gourmet burgers. The rest of the contemporary American menu was up to Assue. The chef relished the opportunity to create original food with fresh ingredients in the volume demanded at so popular a restaurant. “What initially attracted me to City Limits was the opportunity to take diner food to the next level, incorporating the flavors of my childhood in Trinidad and my experiences in the restaurant industry,” he says. “I now have fun in the kitchen every day, introducing City Limits’ guests to approachable fine dining and reimagined comfort food.”
Assue is married to City Limits Executive Pastry Chef Tracy Kamperdyk Assue, a long-time team member of the Livanos Restaurant Group. The couple resides in Westchester County, NY, with their three children.