Bocce, Good Food, and Bright Futures

Author: Kristi Stolzenberg

What could bocce and the Culinary Institute of America possibly have in common with TAPS? As it turns out, a couple of things: the Michael C. Cerullo Memorial Veteran Scholarship, which is awarded to a deserving TAPS survivor on the road to culinary greatness, and the annual bocce tournament that funds it, hosted by Michael’s surviving son, Paul.


woman holding lightbulb sign, bocce balls and stew in pot

Paul and Sharyne Cerullo


Summer 2023

Michael’s son, Paul Cerullo, spent a week in the attic over the summer, sorting through boxes of letters his parents sent back and forth during World War II. He shares, as matter-of-factly as only someone with nine brothers and sisters can, that when his mother, Lillian, passed away in 1997, there was not much to divide among the siblings, but all he wanted were the war letters.  

It was just after completing his rewarding task of archiving photos and cataloging years of wartime daily writings between his young parents that Paul got a call from me — hoping to interview him for an upcoming magazine article about the scholarship he established in his father’s name at the Culinary Institute of America. The timing wasn’t lost on either one of us. 

Eager to learn about Michael’s life and service in the Army, I asked Paul to tell me a bit about his dad before I got to my interview questions. As he drew me in with a vivid retelling of his father’s life — details freshly dusted from his recent walk down memory lane in his home’s attic, I quickly realized I would not be needing my meticulously honed interview questions.


Michael Cerullo

Michael, as Paul told me, was a U.S. Army cook during WWII, and he was a pretty good one at that. He (unofficially) earned a 5-star review from a 3-star general who dubbed Michael the best Army cook he’d ever had. Rumor has it that he was so good, that this general didn’t want him going overseas and tried to pull his name, but that didn’t go over very well.  

During his workup for the deployment that almost wasn’t, Michael received a routine yellow fever vaccine like nearly every other U.S. and Allied troop during WWII. But that inoculation — though it would happen years later — was when Michael contracted a quiet illness that eventually took his life in 1970. Not suspecting anything was wrong, Michael deployed as planned and served in Patton’s Third Armored Division at the Battle of the Bulge. He sustained the front-line troops by cooking and delivering meals via portable mess kitchens, and he even found himself driving a truck of explosives and ammunition to front-line tankers during blackout conditions. 

After the war, he became head chef at a small neighborhood hospital in Providence, Rhode Island — the Miriam Hospital — which is now a Brown University affiliate and a top hospital in the state. He continued to make good food, love his family, and share his fondness for bocce for as long as his illness allowed.


There Was No TAPS 

I sat attentively on the other end of the phone as Paul’s tone changed — heroic war stories and happy post-war memories of his family gave way to the struggle for benefits and his father’s declining health. 

Paul recalled, “There was no TAPS back then. You got a check in the mail, and that was it.” His mother, Lillian, fought hard — acting as her own advocate, legal counsel, and medical expert — to ensure Michael achieved a disability rating that would guarantee education benefits for her 10 children; that was her primary concern.


Bocce and Scholarship 

Paul grew up and attended the Culinary Institute of America, graduating in 1969, just prior to his father’s passing in 1970. Lillian would later urge him to pursue a bachelor’s degree, which he did. Paul built a beautiful life with his wife, Sharyne, and he shared that a few members of the family followed in his father’s footsteps and went into the food business. 

But, 12 — maybe 13 — years ago, Paul had an idea. It was a way to bring the big Italian family together over a holiday weekend, honor Michael’s life, and raise a little money that Paul planned to turn into a bright future for another surviving child interested in pursuing a culinary degree. “My father loved bocce,” Paul told me, so a bocce tournament was the perfect event. He put out the word to the family. Everyone brought a dish to share, and they filled a “caring mason jar” with contributions, which the grandkids tallied up at the end of the tournament. Whatever was raised, Paul would match, and the funds would be forwarded to the institute to be awarded to a surviving child enrolled or accepted to the Culinary Institute of America. To date, the endowed scholarship is approaching its $200,000 commitment.


It Clicked

There was only one hiccup. Paul soon realized that it’s nearly impossible to identify a survivor among a pool of applicants unless they openly share it. This made the process of awarding the scholarship a little trickier, but Paul was set on honoring his father in a way that would support other surviving children. 

Something had come along since Paul’s family fought to receive educational benefits: TAPS. When Paul learned TAPS had a program solely focused on education support for survivors, he said, “It just clicked.” The Michael C. Cerullo Veterans Memorial Scholarship found its home with TAPS, and that is where it can be accessed today. The scholarship — still reserved for a student attending the Culinary Institute of America — is now solely awarded to a surviving child from TAPS.


Get Cooking

As our conversation wound down, I had just two questions left for Paul. One, "What was your favorite meal that your father used to make?" 

Paul didn’t skip a beat before answering, “Veal and peas — I’ll send you the recipe.” Lastly, I asked Paul what he would say to a survivor on the fence about pursuing higher education — at the Culinary Institute of America or anywhere. He said, “I would tell them what my mother told me when she convinced me to get a secondary degree: The soldier you lost is still taking care of you [through the GI Bill, benefits, and other opportunities]. They didn’t serve just to have their families stop learning, growing, and using their talents.”

So, learn, grow, cook — if that’s your passion, connect with TAPS Education Support Services to discover resources available to you, and maybe play a little bocce.

Veal and Peas Recipe

Mike Cerullo's Veal & Peas (Vitello Di Spezzattino)


  • 5 pounds veal - diced or sliced in bite sized pieces
  • ¼ cup and 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 ½ pounds onion
  • 10 garlic cloves (finely sliced)
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 1 ½ pounds peas
  • dried red/green peppers (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • ½ gallon chicken stock


In half the oil, saute (or heat in high oven) the veal thoroughly. In a 1 ½ gallon saucepan, use the remaining oil to brown the onions. Add garlic and cook until soft, approximately 5 minutes. Add red pepper, salt and black pepper, tomato sauce and chicken stock. Simmer for approximately 1 hour or until the veal is tender. Add peas and continue simmering until peas are thoroughly cooked and liquid thickens slightly. At this point, if stew is not thick enough, you may add 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of flour (mixed together) and continue cooking for 10 more minutes.  Serves 20.

College Graduate and Mom

TAPS Education Support Services

Thanks to the generosity of Paul Cerullo and his family and friends, the Michael C. Cerullo Veterans Memorial Scholarship is waiting to propel a qualified survivor to a career in the culinary arts. If food is where your passion lies, contact TAPS Education Support Services at or 800-959-TAPS (8277) to learn more about this incredible opportunity. 

Visit TAPS Education Support Services to access all services available. Use their financial aid search tool to identify scholarships that fit your goals.

Kristi Stolzenberg is the TAPS Magazine Editor.

Photos: and Sharyne Cerullo