Pete Silvestri’s joy in life was putting a smile on everyone’s face. Whether it was through baking one of his famous cheesecakes for friends, creating a satisfying meal of pot roast and gravy at Huntington Hospital or just making his family giggle, Silvestri strove to spread happiness.
“He just loved making people smile and laugh,” said his wife of 42 years, Nancy Silvestri. “He always went out of his way for everybody.”
Silvestri, a lifelong Huntington resident, died Aug. 1 at The Hospice Inn in Melville after battling lung, brain and bone cancer. He was 66.
Silvestri was born and raised in Huntington, graduating from Huntington High School in 1970. He was born more than two months prematurely, and his parents tried to fortify their son’s development by feeding him lots of different meals, Nancy Silvestri said, and the young boy quickly developed a love for food. While in high school, he attended vocational school, his first dip into professional cooking, his wife said. He went on to graduate from the Culinary Institute of America.
“He always had a passion for cooking,” his wife said.
Silvestri started his culinary career as a garde manger chef at the Huntington Townhouse. It was there that he met his future wife, Nancy Donnino, who was working as a waitress. The couple married in 1975.
In 1974, Silvestri joined Huntington Hospital, where he worked as a chef for 40 years until retiring four years ago.
Silvestri relished the holidays, which brought out his passion for baking and he would make over 1,000 cookies at Christmastime, his wife said. He was also well-known for his cheesecakes and breads, she said, bringing them to friends and family throughout the year.
When he wasn’t baking, Silvestri helped coach his son Rocky’s Little League team and volunteered as the first non-female “lunch mother” at his son’s school, St. Patrick’s. Silvestri’s volunteer efforts continued as he got older, and he would collect oatmeal boxes for the YMCA so the kids could make “tom-toms” for Thanksgiving and gather up bottles to raise money for people in the hospital who were in need, his son said.
“It was never in an official manner,” Rocky Silvestri said. “But the little things he did made a difference in people’s lives.”
About a decade ago, a hospital golf benefit was in need of another player.
“He said, ‘I’m not doing that, how are you going to hit a little ball into a hole?,” his wife said. But, she said, he acquiesced and was bitten by the “golf bug.”
Longtime friend and co-worker Nick Perniciaro said the duo played golf at least once or twice a week. At first, he said, Silvestri was just happy to hit the ball. But he improved and more importantly, just loved being out on the course.
“In the kitchen you’re just so busy,” he said. “We would start at 3 a.m., 3:30 a.m. and you don’t even know if it’s raining or snowing outside.”
While golfing, Perniciaro said, Silvestri would often just stop and marvel at the green grass and blue skies. “‘This is so beautiful out here,” he would say.
In addition to his wife and son, Silvestri is survived by a brother, Michael Silvestri, of Huntington.
A mass was held at the Church of St. Patrick in Huntington and Silvestri was buried at the cemetery there.