Legal mind finds food is a great equalizer

 By Brian Cox

Legal News
 
There’s a mound of red potatoes beside attorney Nick Roumel in need of slicing. There are maybe a dozen onions that need to be chopped. The halved peaches are on the grill, but there are cherries that need to be pitted. There’s a lot of prep work yet to be done.
 
It’s Friday night and Roumel is this month’s guest chef for Selma Café, a nonprofit group in Ann Arbor that once a month serves up a Saturday breakfast using local foods as a way to promote and support a regional food economy. Roumel started volunteering with Selma about 2-1/2 years ago and this is his 10th stint as guest chef.
 
“Supporting locally produced food is one of my passions,” says Roumel, sporting his signature blue bandana as with other volunteers he cuts potatoes. “Being involved with Selma is a way to fulfill that passion. These are among my closest friends now.”
 
Roumel’s love of food came as part of growing up in a Greek household in Pittsburgh, where feeding a guest was how hosts showed hospitality.
“Ghandi wouldn’t have lasted 45 minutes with my mom during a fast,” says Roumel.
 
But he didn’t get into cooking until as a senior at the University of Michigan he started waiting tables at Victors in the Campus Inn, which was a high-end French restaurant where waiters wore tuxedos and prepared some dishes tableside.  Later, in law school at Wayne State, he tended bar at Maude’s and The Earle in Ann Arbor. It wasn’t long before he was making dishes at home.
 
“I’d make something simple for friends, like nachos, but I’d make the nachos, the guacamole, the salsa, everything,” he says.

 
He remembers once in law school making scallops meuniere for a date, who said, “Wow, I thought you were going to make spaghetti.”
 
Naturally enough, Roumel says he seems to gravitate to Greek recipes and he’s particularly proud of his baklava and homemade gyros. 
 
“You do something often enough, you start to get it down,” he says.
 
He’s taught Greek cooking classes and writes food columns for The Detroit Legal News and Current. For a short while, in 1980, he even had his own catering company. 
“Food is a great equalizer,” says Roumel. “It breaks down barriers. It brings people closer. Food changes everybody’s mood.”
 
It’s one of the reasons Roumel likes to host Greek Easter at his house for the Nacht Law staff and their families. Food provides a unique opportunity to bond.  This past school year, Roumel made a habit of waking early to prepare breakfast for his 17-year-old daughter, Olivia. He’d ready her a coffee for the road and pack her a lunch. His passion for food must have rubbed off on his daughter over the years. She started her own cooking blog when she was in her early teens and now hopes to work on an organic farm.
 
Despite the allure of a career in the restaurant business, Roumel had wanted to be a lawyer since junior high school. After majoring in philosophy and psychology at U-M and earning his J.D. from Wayne Law, he worked at the Wayne County Neighborhood Legal Services with low-income people and victims of domestic abuse. Later, he started working in private practice and at the University of Michigan’s Student Legal Aid Service, which led to him representing U-M athletes when they got into legal trouble. In 2011, he started with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard & Walker. 
 
In the early days of his career, he was in court three to four days a week. It was in court that he learned the need for self-confidence and to not be intimidated, he says. It was invaluable experience.
 
“That’s how you learn,” he says. “By going to court, by learning on your feet.”
 
Which isn’t dissimilar to how you learn to cook, according to Roumel’s theory, which states, “every recipe is winging, it.”
 
He tastes the glaze he’s making to spread on the grilled peaches in the morning. Cherries and peaches and red wine vinegar with some jalapenos are boiling down on top of the stove. The glaze is sweet and slightly acidic. The jalapenos add just a bite of heat at the end.
 
“That’s good,” says Roumel, “That’s what I was looking for. I think I’ll take the jalapenos out now, though. And add some more cherries.”
That’s how he “wings it.”
 
This story first appeared in Motion magazine, fall edition.
 

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