Todd Abboud: Once more, shining the Spotlight on Fine Dining
“Fine dining died when Charlie Trotter died,”
said Todd Abboud, Chef De Cuisine at Casa Bovina. Charlie Trotter was a fine dining visionary that changed the world of food with his cutting-edge culinary and brilliant drive, believing in the power of simplicity and clean cooking. The famous chef advocated for innovation in the kitchen and curious exploration of the food and wine world.
Traditional fine dining came from French elitism as a means to demonstrate wealth and privilege, but that is not Charlie Trotter’s free-spirited fine dining, nor what our Chef De Cuisine is looking to vitalize in the small city of Lincoln, Nebraska. “Passion can’t be cultivated if you’re making the same dish every day,” said Todd. He firmly believes that American fine dining should be vibrant - relentless in the pursuit of creative cultural expression.
With this conviction, a hefty dose of ingenuity, and fervent passion in revitalizing fine dining culture, Todd Abboud joins Casa Bovina on the path to create exquisite dining experiences that highlight sustainably raised local produce our staple Certified Piedmontese beef.
“When I first got into kitchens, I did sushi. I thought I was going to be a sushi chef.”
Originally from Omaha, Todd went to culinary school in St. Paul Minneapolis before landing an internship at the Boka Restaurant in Chicago. This experience cemented his aspirations to pursue a career as a fine-dining chef. He was hooked from the first time he walked into the restaurant and saw Italian Chef Giuseppe Tentori cooking. “It was just the craziness of it,” Todd recalled. “‘This is insane,’ I thought. I get to pitch in with something out-of-this-world, something I’ve never seen.” Michelin started awarding stars to Chicago restaurants in 2011, and Todd was there to witness Boka Restaurant earning its first Michelin star. The experience left a lasting impression on young Todd.
After graduation, Todd continued to curate an impressive culinary resume. He worked as Sous Chef under Tony Mantuano at Spiaggia and was present when the restaurant earned its one Michelin star. Todd then went on to become Thomas Lents’ mentee during his two-year stint at Sixteen. He also worked at the North Pond restaurant and Waldorf Astoria Chicago Hotel. For nigh on a decade, Todd honed his culinary skills at establishments representing an exceptional brand of high-end cuisine.
Working on these kitchens was incredibly demanding, requiring grit, discipline, and the ability to follow exact instructions under high stress. But to Todd, it was all well worth the effort. Ultimately, those years shaped him into the chef he is today. “I’m glad I went through it. It gave me all the skill and experience that I now bring to customers at Casa Bovina.”
Todd was working as Chef De Cuisine at Le Cirque in Las Vegas when COVID-19 took the world by storm. The pandemic necessitated the implementation of regulatory measures by governments worldwide, delivering a huge blow that staggered the fine dining scene. Restaurants were closing down left and right. Amidst the brewing unrest, Todd returned to Nebraska, where his mother lives. This was when Todd and Casa Bovina finally crossed paths.
“My mom’s actually the one who suggested me to join Casa Bovina, saying that I should check this restaurant out.” But at first, Todd was hesitant. With his fine-dining background and experience exclusively built on tasting menu restaurants, Todd worried that he would not find his niche in the Heartland, especially in a small town like Lincoln. “Even in bigger cities, fine dining is dying out. I didn’t think that Nebraska was ready for it.” He was soon surprised to find that Casa Bovina is more than up to the task.
Casa Bovina is the destination restaurant to experience a fine dining experience unlike any other. Enjoy exquisite Italian Inspired Cuisine paired with Real Nebraska Beef prepared by the Best Chefs in the Midwest.
“It’s something completely different here.”
After seeing Casa Bovina and meeting the current CEO of Certified Piedmontese and owner of Casa Bovina, Shane Peed, Todd was drawn in by the freedom for creativity and express ownership granted in the kitchen. He applauded Casa Bovina's wholehearted support and encouragement for ingenuity and creativity in its chefs. "It's really cool to have the freedom to do what you want," said Todd. "Tom and Rhonda (Founders of Certified Piedmontese) put it perfectly, 'Do what you want, as long as you're happy doing it.' I think that's what makes good food – a happy chef, you know?"
We know that good food made by happy chefs equals satisfied customers, and that is the goal Casa Bovina strives for. Tuesdays to Sundays, Todd works with Executive Chef Zach Midgett to create the day's tasting menu. The chefs have complete free rein over the dishes they choose: a far deviation from Todd's experience with high-end restaurants, which taught him that new chefs in new restaurants typically have little say in what they cook. Casa Bovina breaks down the walls of fine dining - no meticulous set menus and painstakingly detailed instructions to be observed, just a space where he can let his love for the culinary arts run wild.
Todd was excited to talk more about being on the team of Casa Bovina. "The team we've built here is incredible. We're clicking so well; you just don't see it anywhere else." He finds a kindred spirit and great partner in Zach, claiming that their interests perfectly balanced each other, which was a rarity. Casa Bovina has gathered a crew of remarkable talents, the kitchen and the front house staff working in hand to create an unforgettable dining experience for all diners.
“Piedmontese and its ownership really took their time in building a team, and they did it the right way.”
Doing things the right way seems to be Certified Piedmontese's unspoken modus operandi. It stems from the commitment to bring the best quality – of all our products and services – to our customers. Todd first heard of Certified Piedmontese when he was working in Chicago. "My first impression was that it's from Nebraska, from home." He could tell the difference between Piedmontese beef and other beef through taste, "It just tastes better. At the end of the day, it's a better product." He thinks that we should be conscious about what we put in our bodies, and Piedmontese beef is a step towards a healthier lifestyle. In the same breath, he also recommended grass-fed, grass-finished beef as an especially appealing choice for athletes who have higher dietary requirements for protein.
Certified Piedmontese takes pride that our cattle are 100% source verified, raised right here on the grasslands of the Midwest. As a chef at Casa Bovina, Todd got to see it with his own eyes. "We're really getting to know where it's from. I mean, Zach and I actually went to the ranch the other day and saw the cattle, which is crazy." Casa Bovina inherited the same approach and advocates for sustainably raised or caught meat and seafood and using all-natural local ingredients.
Todd brought up the concept of farm-to-table dining, a trend that is gaining considerable traction in many restaurants. It represents a restaurant's prioritization of where their food is grown and assurance that it comes directly from farms rather than through many distribution companies. "You hear it a lot, farm-to-table. Thing is, many restaurants actually order ingredients online without making sure of its exact source."
At Casa Bovina, Todd is all on board as the restaurant works closely with local farmers to get fresh, natural ingredients. Ingredients such as tuna or caviar that cannot be found locally would be obtained from reputable sources approved by the chefs. "We get caviar and duck from the same place The French Laundry source their ingredients, so you know you're still getting that quality even if you have to outsource it from another supplier, and that's great."
“Customers used to expect just steak and potatoes, but they’re catching on real quick.”
More than just a multi-course tasting menu, artistic plating, or tasteful ambience, Casa Bovina has a genuinely friendly atmosphere coupled with incredibly knowledgeable staff to provide customers with a dinner that's fun and memorable. The restaurant showcases character and passion that's hard to find in upscale restaurants of a similar caliber, simply because everyone here is doing what they love.
Moving across the country and returning to Nebraska marks a new chapter of Todd's life. He can see himself growing with Casa Bovina, undertaking more challenges, and taking the restaurant to new heights. "We're constantly growing. Every day I come in, I find my hands in something new."
Aside from a daily changing menu that reflects seasonally available local produce, Casa Bovina's specialty tasting menus also extend past Certified Piedmontese beef to offer a variety of novel seafood options, in no small part thanks to Todd. "I'm big on seafood, which is kind of weird to say because I work for a beef company," he laughs. "But I love seafood." Todd personally sources all seafood ingredients and is usually the first to introduce a seafood dish on the day's tasting menu. He's also interested in Asian cuisine and gains inspiration from it.
Todd admitted that the locals of Lincoln that make up a majority of Casa Bovina's customer base took some time to warm up to certain seafood dishes, such as those that feature raw tuna or caviar. Nebraska being a landlocked region, freshwater fishing is much more prevalent here, and people in Lincoln are more used to freshwater fairs than seafood. Nevertheless, Todd says that he can feel the customer sentiment shifting to accept and even anticipate the singularity that is Casa Bovina.
You don't go into Casa Bovina with preconceived notions of what a Nebraska-based, Italian-inspired fine dining experience would look like. Todd takes pride in wowing the customers of Casa Bovina with the immaculate dishes the kitchen staff puts on.
When asked about his favorite steak and wine pairing, Todd immediately replied, "Dry-Aged whiskey ribeye with a glass of Opus One 2017." The ribeye is a classic combination of tenderness, flavor, and versatility – and it's Todd's favorite cut, both to eat and prepare. Todd also said that the whiskey ribeye is a common choice for customers of Casa Bovina, alongside the Nebraska Steak. At the time of the interview, Todd was on a short break from preparing the night's menu, but the work never ends. "I'll always be thinking about food, thinking about ingredients." Todd lives and breathes his passion, and he finds it is a state he enjoys. "It's busy, chaotic. But I'm excited to be here."
It is a trying time for destination dining, but Casa Bovina is seeing a rise in popularity, its success attributed to the dedication from all members on staff and behind the scenes. Todd expressed his hopes for the future: "I want Casa Bovina to be a destination restaurant; people to fly in just to eat here. I want Casa Bovina to build a name, and people in Chicago, in California, in New York will ask each other 'have you heard about that restaurant customers have eaten at in Nebraska?' That, that is the end goal."
“We want to be a showstopper, a place where people come to Lincoln for.”
For the dauntless home chefs, Chef Todd shared a special recipe from Casa Bovina:
Lemongrass Sabayon (Foam-like texture, perfect with seared scallops)
400g white wine
20 Kaffir lime leaf
350g lemongrass, sliced thin
2 lemon, sliced thin
1g lemongrass crystal
6 eggs, whole
4 egg yolk
240g lemongrass tea base
10g lemon oil
Chef Todd: "Bring the first seven ingredients into a simmer in a medium rondo. Cook for five minutes before removing from heat. Cover with a film and steep for four hours until room temperature. Chinois, pushing for total extraction. Kit up for service using the tea base, egg, egg yolk and lemon oil."