What's Cookin'

Legal minds find food is a 'great equalizer'

Memo to Food Network execs: If you're searching for the next charismatic cooking show host, the Detroit-area legal community has two terrific candidates: Judge Julie Nicholson and attorney Nick Roumel. Each is dynamic, charming and sports an engaging smile. And, oh yeah, both love to cook. The judge and attorney are passionate about preparing unique dishes with flair and say feeding people good food brings them pleasure and satisfaction. They're perfect for their own cooking show. They may just need a little practice talking while chopping so they don't lose a fingertip.

Julie Nicholson

Judge Julie Nicholson drizzles a cherry balsamic sauce over her roasted beets before slicing them to place atop the grilled vegetable salad she has prepared for a gathering of girlfriends. The beets' deep burgundy combines with the red and yellow peppers, the red onion, the sweet potatoes, asparagus, and portabella mushrooms on a platter of arugula to make for a cornucopia of color.

"I like to use whatever's in season," she says as she adds a final touch by crumbling goat cheese over the top.

In addition to the salad, Nicholson has prepared a cold cucumber soup made with a Greek yogurt base; sliced tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and basil; crab cakes with an avocado and jalapeno dip; and a flank steak marinated in Worcestershire sauce, a little barbecue sauce, some red wine and black pepper.

For dessert, there's Key lime pie.

The 52nd District Court judge says she took up cooking when she wanted to feed her two sons vegetables without their knowing she was feeding them healthy edibles. Nicholson discovered she enjoyed experimenting in the kitchen with what she had on hand and the boys Garrett and Drew turned out to be willing guinea pigs. Family dinners became healthier and more interesting.

There were some misses, of course. The mashed cauliflower concoction was resoundingly rejected, as was the sauted quinoa with arugula ("They thought it was too healthy," says Nicholson). But there were far more home run dishes, such as a mushroom, scallion, and asparagus risotto; a butternut squash soup; and her meatballs made of veal, pork, and beef stuffed with melted fresh Parmesan cheese. She likes to make fish tacos with mahi mahi or tilapia and does a lot of cedar plank salmon grilling.

And then there's her macaroni and cheese, which both her sons and husband, Tony Guibord, rank as her top dish. The secret, she says, is four kinds of cheeses.

Nicholson has fed 50 or so friends and family for Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners and once prepared the entire menu for a high school graduation party, making enough chicken piccata, sausage and peppers, cheesecake, and other delicacies for upwards of 150 people.

"It's a great feeling when everyone is eating and asking for seconds," she says. "That's a good feeling."

Nicholson says it was cooking for her sons that she perhaps missed the most when her youngest went off to college.

"I didn't have anyone to feed," she says.

Her reputation as a cook has expanded over the years beyond her own kitchen.

In 2011, she was a celebrity chef at the Dave Thomas Celebrity Cook-Off at Benihana Restaurant in Troy where she served Detroit mayoral candidate Benny Napoleon (with whom she had attended law school) and Motown singer Martha Reeves. She's also been a celebrity chef at Arts, Beats & Eats in Royal Oak.

The oldest of five children, Nicholson was the first attorney in the family, graduating from Detroit College of Law in 1987 after earning a business degree from Michigan State. She was elected to the 52nd District Court in 1996. When she ran for judge, the whole family pitched in, including cousins, aunts, and uncles.

"You really can count on family and friends," she says. "I always say my mom got me more votes than I did."

Nicholson has seen a lot of changes in her 17 years on the bench, particularly the increase in cases involving heroin and prescription drug abuse. Since she was elected, she has made a point to visit schools two to three times a month to talk about drug abuse and the importance of making smart choices.

"I do think part of our job is educating the community about what's out there," she says. "I tell them the decisions you make today can impact what you want to do in the future."

Cooking, in part, is a creative release for Nicholson. She enjoys trying to figure out the recipe of a dish and then playing with flavor combinations. She has particular fondness for cheese.

"I'm a cheese addict," she says. "Anything with cheese on it is good."

From the Kitchen of Julie Nicholson

Chilled cucumber/dill soup

1-1/2 17 oz. containers

of Greek Yogurt

(can use 2% or whole)

1/2 c of Half and Half

2 English cucumbers,

unpeeled, seeded and


3/4 c red onion

9 scallions white and

green parts

2 T salt

1 T pepper

1/4 c fresh dill, chopped

3/4 c fresh lemon juice.

Puree all ingredients, chill and serve. May garnish with fresh dill prior to serving.


1-2 each of Red Bell pepper, Yellow Bell pepper and Green

pepper quartered, seeded length-wise.

1 large Portabella Mushroom sliced

5-6 carrots sliced lengthwise

1 red onion quartered

2 sweet potatoes sliced thin

1 container of grape tomatoes

1 bunch of asparagus

3 roasted red beets

Can use any mix of greens/ lettuce I like a mixture of Arugula and Spring Mix. The Arugula has a crisp, peppery taste.

1/2 c olive oil

1/2 c vinegar (Balsamic any flavor)

Goat Cheese

Wrap 3 red beets in foil; sprinkle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees for 1 hour. Remove beets from oven, immediately peel away the skin with the foil (it should roll right off the beet); cut in quarters. While the beets are roasting cut up all the vegetables and mix with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place in grill pan over medium heat on the grill. Turn frequently depending upon how thinly the carrots and sweet potatoes are sliced they will take longer to grill. Once the vegetables are finished spoon over a bed of greens then toss with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar and top with goat cheese.

Crab Cakes

1 onion finely minced

4 garlic cloves minced

1-1/2 lb. jumbo lump crab

1-1/2 c fresh bread crumbs (unseasoned)

2 T mayo

1 large egg white

1/2 lime juiced

1/4 c fresh cilantro

1 t Old Bay seasoning

1 T Worcestershire sauce

Saute' onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat. Put in bowl, fold in crabmeat, bread crumbs, mayo, egg white, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce and Old Bay seasoning. Chill to prevent the cakes from crumbling. Cook about 4 minutes per side in olive oil until golden brown. Makes about 6 large cakes. Serve with avocado sauce.

Avocado Sauce

1/2 avocado pitted and peeled

1 T mayo

1 T fresh lime juice

1/4 t salt

1/4 t sugar

1 jalapeno stemmed and quartered.

*Seed the jalapeno for a milder flavor

1/4 c Fat free milk

Puree all ingredients in blender or food processor. Add the milk after all the ingredients are chopped.


Nick Roumel

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 Caf, 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. They typically serve about 200 people in a three-hour span. The proceeds from the breakfasts are used to support local farms and food producers. 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."

Like a lot of Roumel's creations, tomorrow's menu presents breakfast with a Greek flair. Guests can start their morning off with a jalapeno, corn and cheese cornbread topped with Greek-style homemade yogurt, with grilled peaches and a side of bacon, garnished with sour cherries or a potato, onion, feta cheese and greens hash served with poached eggs and roasted lamb.

"You get the familiar with a little bit of a twist, which is what I like to do with breakfast," says Roumel.

He once did ribs with an orange marmalade glaze, figuring the topping qualified it as a breakfast dish.

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.

"Gandhi 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. With family, too, for that matter. 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."

Attorney Nick Roumel's food column, "May It Please the Palate," runs every Monday in The Detroit Legal News and on his blog at http://mayitpleasethepalate.blogspot.com/.

By Brian Cox


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