After a day on the bench as Wood County Common Pleas judge, Matt Reger retires to his kitchen to wind down.

“I enjoy doing the cooking here. It’s just my thing,” Reger said.

Reger made his Lemon Chicken with Olives at his kitchen cooktop, explaining where the recipe came from.

He got it out of Real Simple magazine and changed it around – like he does with most things – since his wife Heidi is allergic to wheat and milk.

For this recipe, Reger replaced the wheat with oat flour.

Reger sliced chicken breast cutlets into strips, dredged them in the dry mix, then browned them in olive oil.

“The kids like it, it’s easy and it’s quick,” said Reger, who has been making the dish for 10 years.

As soon as the chicken was browned, he removed it from the skillet. He then added more olive oil and cooked sliced shallots.

He said he has made this so many times, he has it memorized. However, he still occassionally forgets an item when he goes to the grocery story and substitutes, but it’s just not the same. Reger tried onions once, after he forgot to pick up shallots, but said that the flavor of the finished product was off.

He added lemon zest and lemon juice along with olives before placing the chicken back into the skillet. When finished, the chicken was tender, had a hint of lemon and the flavor of the olives was not overpowering.

His two children, who are 11 and 15, are not picky eaters. Although, Reger added, one child will eat salmon — but not peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

His kitchen is an essential area of the home. The back door enters directly into the kitchen, and it’s a meeting place with stairways in the front and in the back.

Reger came to Bowling Green in the early 1990s to serve as a staff attorney for Judge Charles Kurfess. He was city prosecutor for 20 years and in 2006, he took a year off and traveled to Georgia, which is located at the intersection of Europe and Asia, to volunteer through the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Institute.

He returned to Georgia in 2009 and again in 2017 with his church.

Reger has been judge since 2017.

He submitted a Georgian recipe to neighbor Lucy Long, who included it in her “Ethnic American Cooking” cookbook. He said he brought back several recipes, including a salad with cucumbers, tomatoes and walnuts with Italian dressing.

Reger thought about doing a Georgian recipe for this story, but said that the one he wanted to do would have taken longer to fix.

He said he also thought about grilling ribs, which he soaks in lemon, adds salt and pepper, bakes and adds sauce before putting them on the grill.

Reger learned to cook from his grandmothers.

From his dad’s mom, he learned how to take very small amounts from many things and turn it into a meal. She could make a meal out of what was found in the fridge and feed everybody, he said.

“They never had much money at all … and she would make this meal but not with a lot of stuff.”

He mom’s mom, who is 99, worked in the cafeteria at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., and then in a juvenile center cafeteria in Michigan, where he grew up.

Every Sunday she made fried chicken, and — being from the South — she did it well, Reger said.

When he went to Michigan State University, all his male friends cooked.

Reger said he likes the science behind cooking.

“I enjoy it,” he said.

“And I don’t,” Heidi said. “I like good food. I just don’t enjoy the work.”

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