Firing It Up at Casa Bovina: Raising $20k to Feed Children through the BackPack Program
"Food is probably the one common language we share. In as many ways as we're divided today, this place at a communal table is the one place that we are equal. Together with Certified Piedmontese, we bring a community together." – Chef David Olson.
As September draws to a close, Casa Bovina successfully launched the second installment of its Guest Chef Series featuring Chef David Olson, nationally-recognized American Culinary Federation (ACF) Chef. Chef Olson is a television personality and social network influencer, award-winning recipe developer, live fire grill master, international adventurer, and creator of the brand Live Fire Republic. A staunch supporter and partner of Certified Piedmontese, Chef Olson has created fantastic content and visibility for Certified Piedmontese beef with his culinary exploits and increased awareness of what he calls "an incredible product."
Chef Olson joining the ranks of Guest Chef Series hosted by Casa Bovina, Certified Piedmontese's Italian-inspired restaurant, seems inevitable. He has been a long-time advocate for charitable causes, especially in support of children in need. The Guest Chef Series is a fundraiser event that provides dinner guests a chance to sample food crafted by celebrity chefs in the nation while raising money for charities and non-profits. 100% of the event's proceeds go towards a charity of the guest chef's choice.
In this installment, Chef Olson chose The BackPack Program by The Food Bank of Lincoln. The BackPack Program is designed to provide food for hungry children when other resources are not available, such as on weekends and school vacations. Students who qualify for their school's Free or Reduced Lunch Programs are provided a food-filled backpack to give the child and their family steady meals over the weekend or during a school break. The BackPack Program began almost 16 years ago at Clinton Elementary School with 50 kids. Today, this program serves 1,984 students and their families weekly.
2020 and 2021 have been a difficult time for most, but it was also a time of relearning the needs of our community and what we can do in response to help and give back. The pandemic spotlighted many issues related to curing diseases and created greater awareness in addressing hunger and food instability. Needless to say, this event is a project close to our hearts. Once the event date was decided, Chef Olson worked tirelessly with Zach Midgett and Todd Abboud, Executive Chef and Chef de Cuisine at Casa Bovina respectively, to create a unique menu suited to his live-fire culinary style and representative of the spirit of overcoming division to come together for a good cause. "Having talents like Chef Zach and Chef Todd – you can't find talent like this anywhere else in the Midwest. People are going to be inspired; they're going to see a reflection in their dish of the talent that's housed here at Castle Bovina and Certified Piedmontese."
On the first night of the two-day fundraising event, the doors of Casa Bovina flung open to a surge of anticipating guests. They can intuitively sense that something special is in store for them as they step into the restaurant's inviting ambiance, and immediately they see it: Casa Bovina's individual tables have been rearranged to form a long communal table, where each guest is encouraged to enjoy a side of social interaction with their dinner.
Some might be apprehensive about being seated with strangers, but after about 10 minutes, the miracle happens. "It's just so easy to talk to the person beside me, I would never have done it normally, and then I would have never heard the interesting things I now know," says an elated dinner guest. Conversations spark and ignite the atmosphere in the room, flaring up higher when the first course is served.
First up was an amuse bouche of dry-aged Piedmontese beef terrine with its smooth, deep flavors and a spicy tingle of mustard accompanied by a crunch of lavash, followed by romaine lettuce, grilled to bring out its natural sweetness, enhanced with cured yolk and deglazed honey vinaigrette and paired with toasted sourdough sliced paper-thin to play on the texture. Next, marrow and focaccia were served up community-style, where the marrow and bread are placed in the middle of the table for guests to take as they please. The focaccia was made in-house by Casa Bovina's baker, Peter Bass. Grilled Argentinian-style, the marrow was topped with chimichurri butter, "a big game-changer," according to an enthusiastic dinner guest. The short rib raviora brought another round of appreciation with its sweet, creamy onion soubise and the burst of flavor and juice brought out by the short rib slowly braised and pulled apart before it was stuffed in the raviora.
Two guests share the choice of picking between two main courses: Fire-grilled whole branzino with fennel and citrus salad or chimichurri-drizzled cowboy ribeye with parsnip and corn ribs. Amid exclamations of satisfaction, dessert arrived in front of guests looking like a dream - trailing white fog from dry ice as the beef tallow and burnt sugar gelato is served atop toasted white chocolate crumble and delicately drizzled with bourbon caramel.
"We've infused so much artisanship and techniques tonight at the dinner, and I would say it's probably the broadest spectrum of techniques that you'll see in a restaurant setting for 99% of folks here," said Chef Olson. "We incorporated cold smoke, reverse searing, live fire - there's a myriad of really, really cool things we're doing to the ingredients. Texture, flavor, contrast, and compliment, it's a phenomenal meal."
Chef Olson circled the community-style long tables during service, personally thanking each guest, chatting and surprising chuckles and laughter from them, creating an overall sense of community conviviality. He also shared a little bit of himself and his roots – the beverage paired with the marrow and focaccia dish is Bell's Marzen Octoberfest Beer, light on the tongue and cleanses the palate of the thick, creamy, fatty consistency of the marrow. Limited and specially brought to us by Chef Olson from Cornstock, Michigan, where he has tirelessly advocated for the Kids' Food Basket program, nourishing children living at or near the poverty level with critical evening meals to level the playing field for their academic achievement.
"It's an awesome feeling, making connections. I'm glad to say that I feel a strong sense of community here at Casa Bovina," said Chef Olson at the end of service. Certified Piedmontese stands by the belief that a healthier and happier lifestyle is what all people, adult and children alike, deserves. We help make a difference, whether it's on local or a national scale. If you would like to contribute towards a good cause, sit tight for the next installment of the Guest Chef Series!