But within a few years, he became one of the hottest restaurateurs in New York, introducing people to true Tuscan cuisine.
He's co-authored a book about his experiences called "Dirty Dishes: A Restaurateur's Story of Passion, Pain and Pasta."
On The Early Show Friday, Luongo shared tips on how to REALLY make pasta, along with the unusual (for the U.S.!) recipe for one of his favorite pasta dishes.
He also gave a glimpse at his life.
When Luongo lived in Italy, he was pursuing an acting career.
When he came to the United States, he had no money and spoke no English. He landed a job as a busboy in an Italian restaurant that reminded him of home.
Three years later, he opened his first restaurant, Il Cantinori, in Greenwich Village. From there, he opened a slew of hot, celebrity-laden eateries, including Coco Pazzo, Le Madri, and Sapore di Mare in the Hamptons.
The New York Post says Luongo was "synonymous with the high-powered New York dining scene of the '80s and '90s, his hot temper and even hotter restaurants providing endless grist for the city's gossip mill."
But then an ambitious national expansion went sour, and 9/11 hurt his New York restaurant business.
When one of his four remaining restaurants, Centolire, started to suffer, Luongo decided to take over the kitchen himself. He had been so busy with the business side of things for so long that he hadn't spent much time cooking.
Today, Centolire is the only restaurant Luongo has left. But in the book, he writes that's he's happier than ever. He has a wife and three children, and gets to spend his days doing what he loves most -- cooking.
On The Early Show, Luongo demonstrated one of his favorite pasta dishes, and told everything we need to know about making perfect pasta.
Apparently Americans are very confused on the details -- we often mess up this simple dish, according to Luongo).
First, he gave a look at the ingredients:
Rigatoni Alla Buttera (Peasant-Style Pasta)
Sweet and hot Italian sausages
Black pepper from a mill
Green peas, parboiled and shocked in ice water
Canned tomatoes, crushed in their own juice
Parmesan cheese, grated
Notice anything missing?