End of an Italian Empire

THE CHEF WHO BROUGHT HIGH-END TUSCAN CUISINE TO MANHATTAN HAS CLOSED HIS LAST RESTAURANT.

PHILIP BOROFF

ISTOCKPHOTO

PINO LUONGO was a celebrity chef long before the Food Network existed. With more than a dozen restaurants, he helped popularize Tuscan food in the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s. If he’s not a household name today, chef and television personality Anthony Bourdain can vouch for his status. Bourdain, in his book Kitchen Confidential (Bloomsbury USA, 2000), writes that Luongo was “one of the most controversial figures in the business, a man envied, feared, despised, emulated and admired by many.”

Luongo has closed Centolire on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the last restaurant he owned, citing high rent and other costs. On May 14, Luongo’s holding company, ABC Dining, filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors to prevent eviction and an auction of Centolire’s contents. In a filing a few weeks later, he said he couldn’t raise the funds necessary to save the restaurant.

Having arrived in New York from Rome in 1980, Luongo began as a busboy. In 1983, he opened Il Cantinori, which became his first big success. His empire would eventually include Le Madri, in the Chelsea neighborhood; the Tuscan Square retail emporium in Rockefeller Center; and Sapore di Mare in the Hamptons.

Luongo in June spoke briefly at Morso, an East Side restaurant he helped create last year and doesn’t own. “It’s a sad situation, and I just want to move on,” he said, declining to answer further questions.

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