Spotlight: Peng Looi, Asiatique, Louisville, KY

Peng Looi, Asiatique, Louisville, KY

The menus at Chef Peng S. Looi’s award-winning Louisville restaurants reflect his upbringing in Ipoh, Malaysia, which shares land and sea borders with five other Southeast Asia nations and has a multiethnic culinary tradition to match.

Peng finished high school in Manchester, England, and arrived in the U.S. to study engineering, but like so many chefs he couldn’t resist the lure of the kitchen and turned the eclectic cuisine of his childhood into his first contemporary Asian fusion concept, August Moon Chinese Bistro. Seven years later, in 1994, he opened the more upscale Asiatique Restaurant, serving his fresh, inspired interpretations of East-meets-West Pacific Rim dishes, which regional food critics have called “works of edible art.” Peng’s food has been featured nationally and internationally by numerous media including Asian Restaurant News, Bon Appétit and Chef’s Magazine.

Twenty years later, his restaurants are still among Louisville’s top dining destinations and while he has many roles as chef-owner, Peng’s favorite place remains in the kitchen.

“I’m making brulée and ice cream right now,” he says cheerfully, answering the phone one morning during dessert prep with The Perfect Purée Blood Orange Concentrate, Mango Puree and Red Raspberry Puree.

In the kitchen, Peng relies on The Perfect Purée for making yogurt sauce, cheesecake, ice cream and cream brulée. His sous chef at Asiatique, Sarah Strite, makes a cheesecake-on-matcha-pound-cake dessert with a Blackberry Puree gastrique. Peng introduced the purées to his bartenders, who also use it regularly.

“I discovered The Perfect Purée as I was looking for a consistent product to use in my recipes,” he says.

Peng travels as a guest chef and has made multiple appearances at the James Beard House and served as a master chef at the World Gourmet Summit in Las Vegas. As a World Association of Chefs’ Societies-certified judge, he has judged international culinary competitions in Malaysia, the Philippines and Dubai. Peng is also in his ninth year cooking as a guest chef at EPCOT’s Party for the Senses, the extravagant nightly global feast for more than 1,000 people at the Orlando theme park’s International Food & Wine Festival.

In 2016 at EPCOT, Peng served lemongrass-scented Artic char with duck fat-poached asparagus and a mango sambal yogurt sauce. At his culinary demo, he taught a sold-out crowd of 120 how to prepare a roasted hoisin duck with tamarind assam curd and poached asparagus. Peng says he typically uses The Perfect Purée Mango and Tamarind Puree in both dishes but in keeping with Disney policy that prohibits guest chefs from bringing their own ingredients, he had to use purées from companies in France and Thailand.

“I didn’t like those as much,” he said, laughing.